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Hezbollah push forward in battle on Syria-Lebanon border

More than 130 Sunni militants and 19 Hezbollah fighters killed since operation was launched on Friday
Hezbollah advance in Juroud Arsal on 23 July (AFP)
By Reuters

Hezbollah said its forces seized a strategic valley from Sunni Muslim militants on Monday, the latest advance in an offensive to oust anti-government militants from their last foothold along the Syria-Lebanon border.

The Shia Muslim Hezbollah said it had advanced from several directions in the Wadi al-Kheil valley in Juroud Arsal, a barren mountainous border zone that has served as a base for militants linked to the former al-Qaeda affiliated group Fateh al-Sham (JFS), and the Islamic State (IS) group.

The advance gave Hezbollah control over what had been "the most important base for Nusra Front" in the area, Hezbollah's military media unit said in a statement, referring to JFS by its previous name.

The offensive by Hezbollah and the Syrian army has so far focused on militants from JFS. A statement from Hezbollah at the offensive launch on Friday declared it would “purge” the region of Arsal of “terrorists.”

Hezbollah has reported rapid advances against JFS fighters. The next target will be territory held by IS militants, local media have reported.

The Syrian army and Hezbollah recaptured the area around the town of Fleita on the Syrian side of the border on Sunday, the Syrian state news agency SANA said.

The offensive has so far killed 19 Hezbollah combatants and more than 130 Sunni militants, according to a security source.

Hezbollah has played a critical part in previous campaigns against Sunni insurgents along Lebanon's border, part of its wider role backing Bashar al-Assad in Syria's six-year-old civil war.

Hezbollah's role has been criticised by its Lebanese political opponents, including the prime minister Saad al-Hariri, who is a Sunni.

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