Al-Qaida fighters evac­u­ate Le­banon

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL -

BEIRUT — More than 100 buses car­ry­ing thou­sands of al-Qaida-linked fighters and Syr­ian refugees drove from Le­banon to Syria on Wed­nes­day, in what was the last phase of an ex­change deal between Syria’s al-Qaida branch and Le­banon’s mil­i­tant Hezbol­lah group.

The de­par­ture of al-Qaida fighters from the Le­banonSyria bor­der came three years to the day af­ter its fighters stormed the Lebanese bor­der town of Ar­sal and cap­tured two dozen sol­diers, killing some in cap­tiv­ity and re­leas­ing oth­ers. The group’s pres­ence in Le­banon has left scores of peo­ple dead.

More than 7,000 Syr­ian refugees and gun­men, in­clud­ing a top al-Qaida op­er­a­tive in Syria known as Abu Malek al-Talli, were aboard the 113 buses that left Le­banon’s Ar­sal re­gion to­ward the Syr­ian bor­der vil­lage of Fleeta, ac­cord­ing to the gov­ern­ment-con­trolled Syr­ian Cen­tral Mil­i­tary Me­dia.

The mil­i­tants’ and civil­ians’ fi­nal des­ti­na­tion will be the ji­hadi-held part of north­west­ern Syria, ac­cord­ing to an agree­ment among Le­banon, Syria, Hezbol­lah, and Syria’s al-Qaida af­fil­i­ate. That group is known as the Hay’at Tahrir al Sham mil­i­tant al­liance — Ara­bic for the Le­vant Lib­er­a­tion Com­mit­tee.

Hezbol­lah com­bat­ants have been fight­ing along­side Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s forces since 2013, and the Iran-backed group is still deeply in­volved in Syria’s civil war, now in its sev­enth year.

The evac­u­a­tion deal fol­lowed a mil­i­tary of­fen­sive by Hezbol­lah fighters and Syr­ian troops dur­ing which they cap­tured bor­der ar­eas and left hun­dreds of al-Qaida fighters be­sieged.

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