U.S.-led airstrikes block hun­dreds of IS fight­ers in Syria

The Day - - WORLD & NATION - By LIZ SLY and TAMER EL-GHOBASHY

Beirut — U.S. war­planes on Wed­nes­day blocked a con­voy of hun­dreds of Is­lamic State fight­ers who were head­ing to east­ern Syria un­der the terms of a widely crit­i­cized deal bro­kered by Le­banon’s Hezbol­lah move­ment.

The 310 fight­ers were trav­el­ing to the Iraqi-Syr­ian bor­der in a con­voy of buses af­ter Hezbol­lah and the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment per­mit­ted them to with­draw from a be­sieged en­clave on the Le­banese-Syr­ian bor­der.

The deal trig­gered a rare out­burst of public anger against Hezbol­lah even among some of its clos­est al­lies, no­tably in Iraq, which is gear­ing up for an of­fen­sive to re­claim Iraqi territory ad­join­ing the area to which the fight­ers were re­lo­cat­ing.

Ne­go­ti­ated with­drawals have been a com­mon tac­tic in Syria’s six-yearold war and have en­abled the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment to re­assert its au­thor­ity over many of the areas that fell to op­po­si­tion con­trol.

But this was the first pub­licly an­nounced in­stance of a deal in­volv­ing the Is­lamic State on any bat­tle front in Syria or Iraq since the war against the group geared up three years ago.

The crit­i­cisms laid bare a widen­ing rift be­tween the U.S.-led coali­tion bat­tling the Is­lamic State and the ri­val coali­tion fight­ing the ex­trem­ists that in­cludes the Shi­ite Hezbol­lah move­ment, Syria and the Ira­nian-backed Shi­ite mili­tias in Iraq.

On Wed­nes­day morn­ing, the U.S.led coali­tion moved to pre­vent the con­voy from reach­ing its des­ti­na­tion, cra­ter­ing the road and blow­ing up a bridge lead­ing to the Is­lamic State-con­trolled town of Buka­mal on the Syr­ian bor­der with Iraq, ac­cord­ing to a U.S. mil­i­tary spokesman, Col. Ryan Dil­lon.

The strikes took place in the vicin­ity of a desert town called Ha­maymah, and though front lines are fluid and shift­ing in that part of Syria, it is the U.S. mil­i­tary’s un­der­stand­ing that the con­voy is now stuck in Syr­ian gov­ern­ment-held territory, Dil­lon said.

“ISIS is a global threat, and to re­lo­cate ter­ror­ists from one place to an­other for some­one else to deal with is not ac­cept­able to the coali­tion,” he said, us­ing an al­ter­na­tive acro­nym for the Is­lamic State. “Our goal is to pre­vent this con­voy from mov­ing to ISIS-held territory to re­in­force ISIS el­e­ments there.”

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