The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Mediators say some Syrian militants pulling out of captured Lebanese border town

  • Print
Lebanese army reinforcements arrive to the outskirts of Arsal, a predominantly Sunni Muslim town near the Syrian border in eastern Lebanon, Monday, Aug. 4, 2014. Thousands of Lebanese civilians and Syrian refugees packed cars and pickup trucks Monday, fleeing an eastern border town that was overrun by militants from neighboring Syria as Lebanese troops fight to liberate the area. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Enlarge Image

Lebanese army reinforcements arrive to the outskirts of Arsal, a predominantly Sunni Muslim town near the Syrian border in eastern Lebanon, Monday, Aug. 4, 2014. Thousands of Lebanese civilians and Syrian refugees packed cars and pickup trucks Monday, fleeing an eastern border town that was overrun by militants from neighboring Syria as Lebanese troops fight to liberate the area. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

BEIRUT - Some Syrian militant fighters have begun withdrawing from the Lebanese town they captured five days earlier as a new 24-hour cease-fire was announced Wednesday, according to the Lebanese army and the Muslims clerics that mediated the deal.

It is not clear how many militants are actually leaving the border town of Arsal and previous cease-fires have collapsed, but three more captured Lebanese soldiers were released as part of the agreement, according to the mediators in a televised press conference.

"Most of the gunmen have begun moving toward Syria," said Sheik Hussam al-Ghali, a member of the Association of Muslim Scholars group that brokered the cease-fire in what has been the most serious spillover to date from Syria's civil war.

Lebanon's former prime minister, meanwhile, announced that Saudi Arabia is granting another $1 billion in aid to the Lebanese army to support its fight against militants.

Fighting in Arsal first began on Saturday when militants from Syria overran the town, which lies near the border with Syria. They seized Lebanese army positions and captured a number of soldiers and policemen, demanding the release of a prominent Syrian rebel commander, Imad Ahmad Jomaa, who was arrested in Lebanon earlier that day.

At least 17 Lebanese soldiers have been killed and another 22 — as well as an unknown number of policemen — have been declared missing. Tens of thousands of Lebanese civilians and Syrian refugees have been trapped by the fighting, and mediators have been trying to work out an arrangement to evacuate wounded civilians from the town.

An initial truce was brokered on Tuesday, but clashes broke out again after the militants opened fire on Lebanese troops the next morning and the delegation of Sunni clerics had to return to the town to mediate a new cease-fire.

A senior Lebanese security official confirmed that the three soldiers were released and said the army has agreed to a new cease-fire to allow for more negotiations and for aid to enter Arsal.

Speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, he confirmed some militants were starting to withdraw but the army was insisting all of them leave.

"Our conditions are clear. We will accept nothing else than a complete withdrawal and the release of all soldiers and policemen," he said.

The capture of Arsal was the first time in Syria's conflict, now in its fourth year, that rebels seeking the overthrow of President Bashar Assad have carried out a large-scale incursion into Lebanon, raising concerns that the tiny country is being further sucked into its larger neighbour's bloodletting.

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, on a visit to Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, announced that the kingdom was providing the Lebanese army with an additional $1 billion in aid.

The funds are separate from the $3 billion Saudi Arabia pledged in December to help strengthen Lebanon's armed forces with the purchase of weapons from France. That was the biggest grant ever for the Lebanese military, but there have been delays in the delivery of that aid.

The militants in Arsal belong to Syria's al-Qaida affiliate, the Nusra Front, and the more extreme Islamic State group, alongside other smaller Syrian rebel brigades, officials said.

Ahmed al-Qusair, a Syrian activist in contact with the militants, said that the fighters would not totally withdraw unless they had guarantees the Syrian refugees in the town would not be harmed if they pulled out.

Over 170,000 people have been killed in Syria's civil war, nearly a third of them civilians, activists say.

Also Wednesday, a leading rights group called on rebels in Syria to "immediately release" 54 women and children they have held hostage since the rebels seized their villages last year.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch said that the women and children were likely taken because they are Alawite, members of a Shiite offshoot sect to which Assad also belongs, and that the rebels were likely seeking to exchange them for opposition fighters captured by the government.

_____

Associated Press writers Zeina Karam in Beirut and Abdullah Al-Shihri in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia contributed to this report.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

It’s the End Of the Term And They Know It, Part Two

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A goose flys defensively to protect their young Wednesday near Kenaston Blvd and Waverley -See Bryksa 30 Day goose challenge- Day 16 - May 23, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Two Canadian geese perch themselves for a perfect view looking at the surroundings from the top of a railway bridge near Lombard Ave and Waterfront Drive in downtown Winnipeg- Standup photo- May 01, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Who will you vote for in Wednesday's mayoral race?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google