Lebanon finds remains of soldiers held by IS

Lebanon finds remains of soldiers held by IS
Lebanon has located the remains of eight soldiers kidnapped three years ago by the Islamic State group along the restive eastern border with Syria.
3 min read
28 August, 2017
The soldiers were among 30 military personnel kidnapped by IS militants in 2014. [Getty]

Lebanese military located the remains of eight soldiers kidnapped three years ago by the Islamic State group on Sunday, after searching the restive eastern border region of the country.

The announcement by Lebanese authorities came hours after the army declared a pause in its nine-day assault on IS militants in exchange for information on the missing soldiers.

"We have removed the remains of six bodies. We are expecting the number to go up to eight," head of the General Security agency Major General Abbas Ibrahim told reporters gathered in downtown Beirut.

"We believe that these remains belong to the soldiers."

The army later released a statement saying the remains of eight bodies had been retrieved from the Jurud Arsal mountainous border area with Syria and taken to a military hospital for DNA testing.

The soldiers were among 30 military personnel and police kidnapped by IS militants and al-Qaeda's former Syrian affiliate when they overran the Lebanese border town of Arsal in August 2014.

Sixteen were released in a prisoner swap in December 2015 while four were killed by their captors and a fifth died of his wounds.

Families of the missing soldiers had gathered in downtown Beirut amid blistering heat to await news of their loved ones.

They sat in tents pitched three years ago during protests to pressure the government to find the soldiers.

Deal stuck for IS fighters

The Lebanese army said the missing soldiers were its "top concern" as it launched an offensive earlier this month against an estimated 600 IS militants in the border region.

The army had contained IS in 20 square kilometres out of 120 held by IS in the mountainous region near the Syria border before a ceasefire agreement on Sunday. 

Lebanese militant group Hizballah - which had simultaneously launched its own assault against IS from the Syrian side of the border - also declared a ceasefire on Sunday.

The group said the pause in fighting was part of a "comprehensive agreement to end the battle in west Qalamoun against Daesh (IS)".

A deal is expected to see hundreds of IS militants leave both sides of the border for eastern Syria, according to Lebanese and Syrian sources.

Sources close to Hizballah told AFP the deal would see the IS fighters "surrender and deportation from west Qalamun (in Syria) and the Lebanese outskirts to the city of Mayadeen in Deir az-Zor province". 

Hizballah's War Media channel said on Sunday that 17 buses and 10 cars belonging to Syria's Red Crescent had arrived in the west Qalamoun area in preparation for the evacuations.

Syria's state news agency SANA, quoting a military source, confirmed Hizballah and IS had agreed that "the remaining Daesh (IS) fighters will leave to eastern Syria". 

The Lebanese Shia group has been fighting alongside Bashar al-Assad's army since the conflict began in 2011.