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Hezbollah leader says US actions aiding Islamic State in Syria

Comments come after US official says president is considering sanctions on Iran for its support of Hezbollah
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah (AFP)
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Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Sunday that the United States was serving the interests of the Islamic State (IS) group by preventing the Syrian army and its allies from advancing in some areas of eastern Syria.

American jets have this year targeted pro-government militias in eastern Syria that were advancing towards Washington's local allies.

Nasrallah said the US was delaying the Syrian military in its battle to retake territory from IS.

"The American air force in some areas prevents the Syrian army and its allies from advancing in areas controlled by Islamic State," said the leader of Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shia movement designated by Washington as a terrorist group.

"The Americans are working to hinder the battle against Islamic State," he said in a speech, part of a commemoration for Hezbollah fighters killed in clashes against IS.

His comments came after a senior US official said President Donald Trump was considering putting sanctions on Iran for its support of Hezbollah, and as the US Congress prepares to consider tighter sanctions on Hezbollah itself.

The battlefield situation in Syria is complex, comprising both a civil war that pits Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government against rebels, as well as two separate campaigns against IS.

The Syrian army, backed by Russia, Iran and Shia militias including Hezbollah, has advanced against IS in an offensive across the central Syrian desert in recent months.

The US is meanwhile leading a rival international coalition against the Sunni militants that includes an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias.

Russia and the US have put in place measures to prevent outright conflict between the two offensives against IS, but there have been times when they have fired on each other.

Security sources in Lebanon have said that Hezbollah has lost hundreds of fighters in Syria since it entered the conflict in support of Assad in 2013 against rebel groups.

Last week, IS counter attacks against the Syrian army and its allies killed a number of Hezbollah fighters, including a senior commander, Ali al-Hadi al-Asheq.