Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Syrian army launched an offensive to drive insurgents from their last foothold at the Syrian-Lebanese border Friday, a pro-Damascus military commander said.
The operation targeted insurgents from the Nusra Front group in the mountainous outskirts of the Lebanese town of Arsal and areas near the Syrian town of Fleita, the commander said.
A Lebanese security source said refugees living in the area were fleeing toward Arsal and the Lebanese army was facilitating their passage with U.N. supervision. It was not yet clear how many refugees were on the move, the source said.
Several thousand Syrian refugees occupy camps east of the town in an area known as Juroud Arsal, a barren mountainous zone between Syria and Lebanon that has served as a base for Islamic State militants, jihadists and other rebels fighting in Syria’s six-year civil war.
Hezbollah, a Shi’ite group backed by Iran, has played a critical part in previous campaigns against insurgents along the border, part of the much wider role it has played supporting President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian war.
The Lebanese army is not taking part in the operation, the commander in the pro-Damascus military alliance and the Lebanese security source said. The Lebanese source said the army had assumed a defensive position, was monitoring militant movements and would fire if it came under attack.
The Lebanese National News Agency later reported that the army had fired on a group of militants trying to flee the fighting toward Arsal town.
The Lebanese army, a recipient of U.S. and British military support, deployed reinforcements on the outskirts of Arsal in anticipation of the operation this week to prevent militants from crossing into Lebanon.