Lebanon, Syria declare ceasefires in fight against ISIL

Lebanon declares truce to pave way for release of ISIL-held troops as Syrian army and Hezbollah halt separate campaign.

Lebanese army soldiers are seen flashing victory signs in the town of Ras Baalbek
The Lebanese army said it is not coordinating its military operations with the Syrian army [File: Ali Hashisho/Reuters]

Lebanon’s army has announced a ceasefire in its offensive against ISIL fighters at the country’s northeast border with Syria.

The ceasefire took effect at 7am local time (04:00 GMT) on Sunday in order to determine the fate of Lebanese soldiers who are in ISIL captivity, the military statement said.

Reporting from Beirut, Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Jamjoom said that the ceasefire was a significant development in Lebanon, given that “the army seemed very confident just a couple of days ago that they were going to rid those areas of the last remnants of ISIL fighters”.

“Now, the Lebanese government is sending out a message that they care for their soldiers, and are trying to ensure that these soldiers can be released as quickly as possible,” he said.

The fate of nine soldiers that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), took captive then remains unknown.

Syria, Hezbollah ceasefire

Shortly after, the Lebanese group Hezbollah and the Syrian army, which are engaged in another offensive against ISIL on the other side of the frontier in Syria along the border with Lebanon, announced a ceasefire that took effect at the same time.

A Hezbollah military media unit said the ceasefire took place “under a full agreement to end the battle in west Qalamoun against [ISIL]”.

At the time of writing, there were no reports of ISIL fighters failing to respect submit to both ceasefires.

Hezbollah’s Al Manar TV reported that the armed group has received the bodies of five of its fighters who were held by ISIL. The bodies will be identified by DNA testing later.

The Lebanese army has been battling ISIL fighters in their last border foothold, near the town of Ras Baalbek.

The assault began last week, coinciding with the Hezbollah and the Syrian army offensive in Syria’s western Qalamoun region.

MAPPED: The battle against ISIL

The Lebanese army said it is not coordinating its military operations with the Syrian army.

Northeast Lebanon saw one of the worst spillovers of Syria’s war into Lebanon in 2014, when ISIL and other armed groups briefly overran the border town of Arsal.

Any coordination between the Lebanese army and either the Syrian army or Hezbollah would be politically sensitive in Lebanon and could jeopardise the sizeable US military aid the country receives.

Last week, Lebanon and Hezbollah each announced they had made significant gains against ISIL fighters, driving them back into a smaller part of the arid hills on the border.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies