BEIRUT: Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah delivered a speech hours after the last Daesh (ISIS) fighters left the northeast Lebanon border with Syria.
Nasrallah began his speech by offering his condolences to the families of the Hezbollah fighters, as well as those of Lebanese Army and Syrian army soldiers who were killed in the battles against Daesh.
He said of the end of the battle on the Syrian side of the border, where Hezbollah was battling Daesh with the aid of the Syrian army, “Daesh found themselves cornered, they surrendered and collapsed after the decisive battle. ... When they [Daesh] asked for negotiations, we set our conditions.”
Describing the conditions set by Hezbollah, Nasrallah said it was demanded that “all militants would leave Lebanese territories and Syrian land [in western Qalamoun] and that the fate of the Lebanese soldiers captured by Daesh in 2014 when the group briefly overran the northeastern town of Arsal, be revealed. “If they were alive, we wanted them. If they were killed, we wanted their remains.”
The remains of Hezbollah fighters were also demanded, as well as the release of all those taken captive in battles in eastern and southern Syria, including Syrian soldiers, Iraqi resistance brigades, the Afghani Fatimiyyoun, two bishops kidnapped from Aleppo and photojournalist Samir Kassab.
According to Nasrallah, Daesh said that they did not have the bishops or Kassab in captivity, but only had one captive in Deir al-Zor, a Hezbollah fighter named Ahmad Maatouk. “They seldom keep a captive, and they usually end up killing them,” Nasrallah remarked. “As for the remains, it turns out they leave the bodies in the deserts. Neither the living nor the dead have dignity for them.”
They did have three bodies, belonging to two Hezbollah fighters and an Iranian national who was killed in captivity.
Daesh’s return demands were the release of loyalists from Roumieh prison, a request that was rejected by Hezbollah, Nasrallah said.
The Daesh militants also asked for the arrangement of the transfer of civilians to Syria in exchange for returning captives and remains, while postponing revealing the fate of the captured Lebanese soldiers. “Hezbollah refused until the fate of the soldiers is uncovered,” Nasrallah said. “Hezbollah refused until the fate of the soldiers is uncovered,” Nasrallah said. “We refused the separation of the phases and insisted on a complete solution, including the Lebanese soldiers.”
Hezbollah continued shelling and advancing on Daesh positions until the militants conceded to Hezbollah’s demands, Nasrallah said. The militants were given a deadline of Saturday night. Sunday the recovery of the remains of the Lebanese Army soldiers’ bodies were announced. “They informed us of the location, we called General Security and they informed the Lebanese Army. They gave the bodies and evacuated the area to Bou Kamal in Syria.”
It was agreed that when Daesh reached the set point, the captives and three Hezbollah fighters would be released.
There were 670 people included in the transfer agreement: 331 civilians and 308 militants with light weapons and 26 wounded. Nasrallah noted that there were many who condemned the safe passage of the militants.
Nasrallah said that the search for the missing soldiers was going on simultaneously with the battles and that “There was no resolution even as the battle was going to end.”
“All agreed that if the Lebanese and Syrian land is seized [from Daesh] and the fate of the soldiers was not uncovered, the victory will be [incomplete].”
He explained that the offensive was slowed to allow for more time to reveal the fate of the Lebanese soldiers.
At the conclusion of the battle, it “achieved all its objectives: expel Daesh from Lebanese territories, uncover the fate of the soldiers and secure the border,” Nasrallah said, tallying the dead from the west Qalamoun battles at 11 Hezbollah fighters and seven Syrian soldiers. The area in conflict was 310 square kilometers.
“We are facing an important achievement ... the liberation of all Lebanese territories [from militants],” Nasrallah said. “The militant threat has ended.”
He also praised the liberation of Syrian territories form terrorist groups, couching the success in a regional context. “The other victories have made this battle easier, if Daesh were in Homs... would the battle be this way? Even these Daesh fighters would have fought with a different morale. It is not possible to divide the battle.”
Nasrallah said the people of the Bekaa Valley “made the victory happen” and that “the people and the resistance will celebrate the victory” Thursday afternoon in Baalbeck near Marjet Ras al-Ain to coincide with the day pilgrims stand on Mount Arafat. “We are sacrificing like Abraham wanted to sacrifice his son,” he said.