Major General Abbas Ibrahim, head of Lebanon's Directorate of General Security (DGS), attends an urgent security meeting with leaders of government security agencies and Lebanon's Prime Minister Tammam Salam at the Grand Serail, the government headquarters in Beirut June 20, 2014. REUTERS/Hussam Shebaro
August 11, 2017
BEIRUT (Reuters) – Fighters from Saraya Ahl al-Sham, a Syrian rebel group, will start on Saturday to pull out of an enclave in Lebanon on the border with Syria along with some civilians, a senior Lebanese security official said on Friday.
About 300 fighters, along with their families and some other civilians who wish to return to Syria, will be escorted to the border by security forces, General Abbas Ibrahim, head of the General Security agency, told Reuters.
Ibrahim said a group of civilians who wished to go to the government-held Assal al-Ward district near the border would go there. The fighters, along with their family members, would go to a location that had been agreed upon, he said.
Ibrahim did not name the place. But a military media unit run by Hezbollah – which is closely allied to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – reported that the fighters and their families would go to the rebel-held town of al-Ruhaiba in the Eastern Qalamoun district.
The military media unit run by Hezbollah said around 3,000 refugees would leave Lebanon alongside the militants and be transferred to al-Ruhaiba.
The group’s departure follows that of the Nusra Front, which quit its enclave on the border early this month for rebel-held Idlib, in northwest Syria, after its defeat in a Hezbollah offensive.
During that evacuation and others of rebel groups inside Syria to insurgent-held areas, the Syrian government has allowed them to travel under protection in buses and carry small arms. This time, civilians will be allowed to travel in their own cars, Ibrahim said.
Hezbollah is a Lebanese Shi’ite group that has been a close ally of Assad during Syria’s six-year civil war, fighting mostly Sunni rebels seeking to oust him.
The pull-out by Saraya Ahl al-Sham will leave an Islamic State pocket in the same area as the only remaining militant stronghold on the border. A Lebanese army offensive against Islamic State is expected to start soon.
The movement of rebel and militant factions across Syria’s border with Lebanon represented the biggest military spillover of its civil war into its tiny neighbor.
The factions took positions in the hills that straddle the border around the northeastern Lebanese town of Arsal, home to tens of thousands of Syrian refugees. More than 1 million Syrians have sought shelter in Lebanon during the war.
Last week, Hezbollah’s leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, said that while the Lebanese army would lead the offensive against Islamic State inside Lebanon, his group and the Syrian army would simultaneously attack it on the Syrian side of the border.
A Lebanese military source later said that this would not entail any direct military coordination between the Lebanese and Syrian armies.
(Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Gareth Jones)