Militants pull out of Lebanese border town with captives
he Lebanese Army is working to restore order in Arsal Thursday morning, with a number of missing policemen turning up, after militants withdrew from the northeast border town.
Before the militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria withdrew, Army commandos killed 17 jihadists in a 90-minute battle that ended shortly after midnight, security sources said Thursday. The latest fatalities upped the militant death toll from the Arsal battle to 67. At least 17 soldiers and 12 civilians have been killed in the fighting that broke out Saturday.
The sources said groups loyal to Imad Jomaa, the Syrian national whose arrest by the Lebanese Army over the weekend triggered the battle in Arsal, pulled out toward Syria following clashes with Lebanese troops around Wadi Sweid and Wadi Hosn, the farthest east points in Arsal, close to the border.
After the militants' withdrawal, seven missing policemen were found.
Security sources said the Lebanese Army found three members of the Internal Security Forces at a house in Arsal. Around 8:30 a.m., another four ISF members turned up at a Lebanese Army checkpoint in the Ain al-Shuob neighborhood at the town's entrance.
A total of 38 members of the security forces - 19 policemen and 22 Lebanese soldiers - had been taken captive by the militants in Arsal, according to security sources.
Lebanese Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi said many of the captives had been taken out of Arsal by the militants.
"The captured soldiers were removed from Arsal from the onset of the battles," Kahwagi told reporters after attending part of a Cabinet meeting at the Grand Serail in Downtown Beirut.
Nine captives have so far been released as part of mediation efforts by the Committee of Muslim Scholars, which led to the cease-fire and ensuing withdrawal.
Local officials as well as security sources said the situation was quiet in Arsal after the withdrawal of the militants. The Army is carrying out operations around the town to verify the complete withdrawal of militants before entering the town itself.
Journalists who had gathered at Ain al-Shuob checkpoint Thursday morning were told by the Army to leave as troops were mopping up in the opposite highlands of Ras al-Sarj, where heavy fighting was reported the day before.
The Syrian regime launched airstrikes on the outskirts of Arssal Thursday morning, with Al-Mayadeen reporting that militant hideouts along the border were targeted.
Meanwhile, a Lebanese Red Cross convoy of 17 ambulances entered Arsal for the first time since the fighting erupted Saturday and evacuated 42 civilians - 38 Syrians and four Lebanese - to nearby hospitals.