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Deal reached: ISIS to leave Arsal, soldiers to be released

Lebanese soldiers flash victory signs top their armored carriers as they advance towards Arsal, east Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug.6, 2014. (REUTERS/Hassan Abdallah)

ARSAL, Lebanon: Militant forces will withdraw from Arsal and captured security personnel will be released during a new 24-hour ceasefire, which was reached through negotiations, a security source told The Daily Star.

According to the deal brokered by the Committee of Muslim Scholars, the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria's militants, who refused to withdraw Tuesday with Nusra Front fighters, will leave Arsal and head back into the mountainous outskirts before the Syrian frontier, gradually by 7 p.m. Thursday, the deadline of the ceasefire.

In return, the armed groups demanded a statement be issued by the Army assuring them that Syrian refugees in Arsal would be safe from any "revenge" attacks after their withdrawal, according to the source.

After reaching the agreement, the Committee of Muslim Scholars, which negotiated the deal, left the town with three released Army soldiers, the source added. 

The militants had released three of the abducted 19 Internal Security Forces personnel Tuesday, while the Army confirmed that 22 of its soldiers were missing before Wednesday's deal was reached.

Lebanese troops fought heavy battles with ISIS militants Wednesday before the truce was announced.

Security sources told The Daily Star that the clashes were centered around Wadi Sweid and Wadi Hosn, the farthest east points in Arsal close to the border with Syria, and at Ras al-Sarj, the main entrance to the town.

They said the gunbattles pitted Lebanese troops against jihadists, particularly those groups loyal to Imad Jomaa, the Syrian national whose arrest by the Lebanese Army over the weekend triggered the battle in Arsal.

Jomaa had been a member of the Nusra Front until he recently pledged allegiance to ISIS, the sources said.

Several local officials as well as security sources confirmed that the majority of Islamist militants from the Nusra Front withdrew from the Bekaa Valley hamlet overnight.

The armed groups were split over attempts to end the fighting. While Nusra Front wanted to leave Arsal and move to the outskirts, ISIS insisted on staying to continue fighting the Army, the sources said.

A delegation from the Committee of Muslim Scholars had negotiated an ill-fated cease-fire Tuesday, which was breached by an attack on an Army base in the evening.

Arsal’s Future Movement official Bakr Hujeiri confirmed the release of the three Army soldiers Wednesday afternoon.

The Committee of Muslim Scholars had underlined the need for a negotiated truce.

"It is important to keep working on this [cease-fire] initiative because it is the only solution that could end the bloodshed, particularly of innocent civilians,” head of the committee Sheikh Salem Jdeideh said after visiting fellow member Sheikh Salem Rafei at hospital.

Rafei and two other members of the committee were wounded when their vehicle came under attack as they entered Arsal Monday night to negotiate a truce.

Rafei, however, was taken to hospital in the northern city of Tripoli Tuesday after the wound in his leg became infected.

Clashes between jihadists and Lebanese troops raged until the early morning hours in Arsal after militants targeted several military posts, shattering a temporary cease-fire mediated by the Muslim Scholars.

Security sources said machine gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades were used in the fighting which dwindled at daybreak.

Lebanese Army fired artillery shells to repel militant attacks, the sources told The Daily Star.

Sheikh Mohammad Hujeiri, who had been following up on mediation efforts, accused Hezbollah of hindering the militants’ withdrawal.

“Gunmen were preparing to pull out, but their mission was obstructed when Hezbollah, backed the Lebanese Army, shelled the town,” Hujeiri told The Daily Star.

He said the jihadists expressed willingness to withdraw once a cease-fire goes into effect.

The Lebanese Army had agreed to another 24-hour humanitarian cease-fire to allow the evacuation of wounded civilians from Arsal and support ongoing efforts to release kidnapped soldiers held by Islamist militants.

The cease-fire, which lasted nearly three hours, had allowed Lebanese Red Cross ambulances to enter the town and transport wounded civilians to nearby hospitals, sources in Arsal told The Daily Star.

However, a convoy carrying vital humanitarian supplies for thousands of needy people that had left Chtaura after midday to head to Arsal - the first aid convoy since the fighting broke out five days ago - was prevented from entering Arsal by residents from the nearby town of Labweh, according to a security source.

The death toll the Arsal clashes stands at 17 soldiers, 50 militants and 12 civilians killed, according to a security source.

 

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Summary

Militant forces will withdraw from Arsal and captured security personnel will be released during a new 24-hour ceasefire, which was reached through negotiations, a security source told The Daily Star.

After reaching the agreement, the Committee of Muslim Scholars, which negotiated the deal, left the town with three released Army soldiers, the source added.

Lebanese troops fought heavy battles with ISIS militants Wednesday before the truce was announced.

Lebanese Army fired artillery shells to repel militant attacks, the sources told The Daily Star.

The Lebanese Army had agreed to another 24-hour humanitarian cease-fire to allow the evacuation of wounded civilians from Arsal and support ongoing efforts to release kidnapped soldiers held by Islamist militants.

The death toll the Arsal clashes stands at 17 soldiers, 50 militants and 12 civilians killed, according to a security source.


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