The Latest: Hezbollah defends transfer of IS militants
Aug. 30, 2017
BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the Syrian conflict and the war against the Islamic State group (all times local):
Hezbollah says the deal it negotiated to evacuate Islamic State militants from the Lebanon-Syria border was the "only way" to resolve the "national and humanitarian" case of determining the fate of Lebanese soldiers captured three years ago and later killed.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was responding Wednesday to criticism of the deal, which was to allow over 300 militants and their families to relocate to an IS-held area in eastern Syria, near the border with Iraq.
The U.S.-led coalition and Iraq criticized the deal. Coalition warplanes disrupted the transfer by bombing a small bridge, cratering a road and striking another group of IS militants who were traveling to meet the convoy, which is now stuck in Syrian government-held territory.
Nasrallah said in a statement that the evacuation will not change the battle for the largely IS-controlled Deir el-Zour province, where thousands of fighters are based.
He said Hezbollah fighters and Syrian troops are engaged in the battle for the province. "We transported those defeated militants from one front we fight in to another front we also fight in," he said.
U.S. officials say their patrols in northern Syria have come under fire several times from areas controlled by Turkish-backed Syrian forces, sparking a protest from Washington.
Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the U.S-led coalition, said Wednesday the attacks occurred over the last two weeks against patrols flying U.S. flags in the Manbij area, a flashpoint between Turkey-backed opposition fighters and U.S.-backed Kurdish forces.
Dillon says U.S. forces returned fire with "less than 100 rounds" once on Aug. 21.
The incident was conveyed to Turkey, he said. In a statement, the coalition says there were no casualties or damage to equipment, adding that any action that endangers coalition forces is "unacceptable."
The incidents were first reported by CNN.
The U.S.-led coalition says it has struck an Islamic State convoy coming from militant-held territory in Syria to meet IS evacuees being transferred there under a controversial deal brokered by Lebanon's Hezbollah militant group.
U.S. officials have criticized the transfer of hundreds of militants and civilians who are bound for an IS-held area near the Iraqi border, saying the extremists should be killed on the battlefield.
Col. Ryan Dillon says Wednesday's airstrike hit vehicles identified as belonging to IS that were traveling from IS-held territory toward the convoy.
Coalition officials say they are not bound by the evacuation agreement and may strike the evacuees themselves. An earlier coalition airstrike destroyed a small bridge and cratered a road, hindering the movement of the evacuees.
There are about 300 militants and almost as many family members on buses being evacuated under the deal, which ended the IS presence along the Lebanon-Syria border.
A U.S. official says the coalition is monitoring a convoy of Islamic State fighters who were evacuated from the Lebanon-Syria border toward an area near Iraq under a controversial agreement and may strike the militants.
Col. Ryan Dillan, a spokesman for the U.S.-led alliance against the militants, says "we are monitoring their location in real time." He says the coalition "will not rule out strikes against IS fighters being moved."
He says the coalition has already bombed a small bridge to obstruct the convoy.
Syrian opposition activists say the convoy, which left the Lebanon-Syria border on Tuesday, is still in government-controlled territory in eastern Syria.
The IS militants were allowed to evacuate in buses following a Hezbollah-negotiated deal that allows them to go to IS-held territory near the Iraqi border.
Dillan said "we are not party to any agreements that were made by the Lebanese Hezbollah and ISIS or the (Syrian) regime." ISIS is another acronym for the Islamic State group.
A U.S. official has blasted a deal that led to the evacuation of hundreds of Islamic State group fighters and civilians from the Lebanon-Syria border to areas close to Iraq, saying the extremists should be killed on the battlefield.
The evacuation agreement, the first such publicized deal, had already angered many Iraqis who accused Syria and Lebanon's Hezbollah of dumping the militants on the Iraqi border rather than eradicating them.
The top U.S. envoy for the international coalition against IS, Brett McGurk, tweeted on Wednesday that it is "irreconcilable" that IS "terrorists should be killed on the battlefield, not bused across #Syria to the Iraqi border without #Iraq's consent."
McGurk added that the anti-IS coalition will help ensure that "these terrorists can never" enter Iraq.