Buses evacuate Islamic State fighters from key border region

Posted August 31, 2017

US airstrikes blocked the advance of an Islamic State convoy carrying militants toward Iraq on Wednesday, derailing a Hezbollah-negotiated deal that removed the extremists from the Lebanon-Syria border, where they have been for years.

Coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon told The Associated Press the coalition has already struck a small bridge and punched a crater in a road to keep them from moving further east toward the border with Iraq.

The deal has been criticised by the coalition and by Iraq, whose army is also fighting against Islamic State in areas contiguous with the eastern Syria region to which the convoy was headed.

The evacuation came as part of a controversial deal brokered by the Lebanese Hezbollah group to clear IS from an area along the Lebanon-Syria border.

But anger over the transfer deal prompted the US-led coalition to launch airstrikes on Wednesday to block the convoy.

"We consider it an insult to the Iraqi people", he said on Tuesday.

Dillon said "we are not party to any agreements that were made by the Lebanese Hezbollah and ISIS or the (Syrian) regime". There are about 300 militants and nearly as many family members on buses being evacuated under the deal.

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It insisted that it was merely coincidental that both sides simultaneously began an offensive against the Islamic State over a week ago and that both sides declared a cease-fire in their fights against the militant group at about the same time on Sunday. "So if we do identify and find ISIS fighters who have weapons - and like I said, we can discriminate between civilians and ISIS fighters - we will strike when we can".

The agreement saw the air-conditioned buses move the ISIS members from Qalamoun on the Lebanese border to the town of Abu Kamal in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor.

"Irreconcilable #ISIS terrorists should be killed on the battlefield, not bused across #Syria to the Iraqi border without #Iraq's consent", Brett McGurk, US presidential envoy to the US-led anti-ISIL coalition, wrote on Twitter.

McGurk added that the anti-Daesh coalition will help ensure that "these terrorists can never" enter Iraq. What's more, the withdrawal of militants from border areas will mean that the Lebanese army will consolidate evacuated areas along the frontier.

Nine Lebanese soldiers were kidnapped by ISIL in 2014 when they briefly overran the border town of Arsal. Militants from their 50,000 strong force have dramatically influenced the direction of the conflict in Syria, Iraq and Yemen in Iran's favour.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun declared victory against IS on Wednesday and praised the Lebanese army for carrying out the operation.

"We have long expressed our concerns about Hezbollah's military operations in Lebanon, which violate UN Security Council Resolution 1701 by defying the worldwide community's call to disarm", they added.