Lebanon army - militants launch peace initiative in Arsal
A large number of Islamist militants withdrew overnight from the embattled northeastern town of Arsal as mediation efforts continued to end the fighting with the Lebanese Army, a Future Movement official said Wednesday.
“About 50 percent of the gunmen had pulled out,” Arsal’s Future Movement official Bakr Hujeiri told The Daily Star.
He said negotiations were ongoing toward a complete withdrawal and the handover of Lebanese soldiers held captive by the militants.
A total of 22 soldiers were reportedly missing after jihadists from Syrian overran Arsal on Saturday. Three were handed over Tuesday.
According to a security source, that there is a decent chances that some abducted soldiers will be released Wednesday.
Clashes between jihadists and Lebanese troops raged until the early morning hours in the border Bekaa Valley town after militants targeted several military posts, shattering a temporary cease-fire mediated by the Committee of 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.
The Muslim Scholars informed the government that gunmen would withdraw from Arsal at dawn Wednesday.
Still, the armed groups were split over attempts to end the fighting. While some groups wanted to leave Arsal and move to the outskirts, others insisted on staying to continue fighting the Army, the source said.
Sheikh Mohammad Hujeiri, who is 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 agreed to a 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, allowed Lebanese Red Cross ambulances to enter the town and transport wounded civilians to nearby hospitals, sources in Arsal told The Daily Star.
The death toll from five days of fighting in and around Arsal stood at 17 soldiers killed, 50 militants and 12 civilians according to a security source.