Wed | Dec 13, 2017

Remains of soldiers held by IS located

Published:Monday | August 28, 2017 | 12:00 AM
The mother of Mustafa Ali Wehbe, who was kidnapped by Islamic State group militants, weeps in a tent set up in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, yesterday.

BEIRUT (AP):

The remains of eight Lebanese soldiers kidnapped by the Islamic State (IS) group three years ago were located yesterday, a senior Lebanese official said, in a negotiated deal that followed a military offensive to drive the militants out of the border area with Syria.

Abbas Ibrahim, the chief of Lebanese General Security, said six bodies buried in Lebanon near the border with Syria were already removed. He said the operation continued to pull out two more bodies, but the fate of a ninth soldier remained unknown. Ibrahim said DNA tests will be carried out to ascertain the identities of the soldiers.

Locating the soldiers' remains was part of a deal that comes a week after the Lebanese military launched a campaign to drive out IS militants from some 120 square kilometres (46 square miles) in a rugged mountainous area that straddles the Lebanese-Syrian border. Separately but simultaneously, the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, in cooperation with the Syrian army, launched another offensive to pressure the IS militants in Syrian territories along the same border area.

The US-backed Lebanese army denies it coordinated with the Syrian government.

 

PREPARING AN OFFENSIVE

 

The deal also entails the transfer of remaining IS militants on both sides of the border to eastern Syria's Deir el-Zour province, which is mostly controlled by the extremist group. The Syrian government, backed by Russian air power and Iranian-organised militias, is preparing an offensive to recapture the oil-rich province.

After a week of fighting, ceasefires were announced on both sides of the border earlier on Sunday. The Lebanese army said the halt in fighting, which came after 100 square kilometres (38 square miles) were cleared of militants, was to allow for negotiations to determine the fate of the soldiers.

Hezbollah and Syrian media said the ceasefire was to allow for the comprehensive deal.

Hezbollah, which Western nations view as a terrorist organisation, has been fighting alongside President Bashar Assad's forces inside Syria since 2013.