Arsal: Hezbollah, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham agree ceasefire

Group ‘close to military victory’ calls truce with Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, whose fighters will reportedly return to Syria.

Fighting between Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement and a former al-Qaeda affiliate on the Syria-Lebanon border halted on Thursday after a ceasefire was reached, Lebanese media and Hezbollah outlets reported.

The truce in the mountainous Juroud Arsal area between the Iran-backed Shia group and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, previously known as al-Nusra Front, was struck after a week of fighting.

The ceasefire was confirmed by Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV website and Lebanese National News Agency (NNA), which said the pause was part of a deal brokered by the country’s general security agency chief Major General Abbas Ibrahim.

“The al-Nusra fighters and their families will go to Idlib,” a province in northwestern Syria largely under the control of the jihadists, NNA said.

Hezbollah said the ceasefire came into force at 6am (03:00 GMT) and halted fighting on all fronts.

The development comes a day after the leader of the Hezbollah group said that the group was close to defeating Jabhat Fateh al-Sham in the battle along the Syrian-Lebanese border.

“We are in the face of a very big military victory,” Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech on Wednesday.

The rival fighters have “effectively lost” most of the land they held in the barren, mountainous border region of Jroud Arsal, he added.

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As soon as fighting ends, Hezbollah would be ready to hand over territory it has captured if the Lebanese army requests it, Nasrallah said.

Al-Nusra Front, formerly al-Qaeda’s Syria branch, severed ties with the latter and rebranded itself as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham last year.

Hezbollah has made rapid advances since it launched an offensive with the Syrian army on Friday to drive Jabhat Fateh al-Sham from their last foothold along the frontier.

Al Jazeera’s Imtiaz Tyab, reporting from Beirut, said that Hezbollah captured the area in question in a quick offensive over a matter of days.

“Hezbollah has been calling for talks in order to reach a settlement. It appears the sides reached some sort of a settlement, but the details of this deal are yet to be announced,” he said. “However, what we know for a fact is that the fighting has stopped.”

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The Lebanese army, a recipient of US and British military support, has not taken part in the offensive and has set up defensive positions around Arsal, which Nasrallah described as essential.

Hezbollah has played a major role in fighting armed groups in the border region during the six-year Syrian war and provided critical military support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

On the Syrian side of the border, Hezbollah fought “shoulder to shoulder” with the Syrian army around the town of Fleita in recent days and cleared the area of rival fighters, Nasrallah said.

Nasrallah stressed that his movement is “very cautious” not to endanger the lives of any Syrian refugees living in informal camps on the outskirts of Arsal.

Security sources say some two dozen Hezbollah fighters have been killed overall in the battle, and nearly 150 from the other side.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies