September 8, 2017 / 12:45 PM / 5 months ago

Lebanese army to deploy along entire eastern border, army chief says

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon’s army will deploy along the country’s entire eastern border with Syria and remain stationed there after recently recapturing areas from Islamic State militants, army chief General Joseph Aoun said on Friday.

The remarks appeared to confirm comments by the Lebanese Shi‘ite group Hezbollah that it was handing over points it had controlled along the border to the military.

“The army will deploy from now onwards along the extent of the eastern borders, to defend them,” Aoun said at a ceremony commemorating Lebanese soldiers killed by Islamic State.

An army offensive last month ended with the militants withdrawing from their last foothold along the border under a ceasefire deal. The Syrian army and Hezbollah fought the jihadists separately on the Syrian side.

People throw rice on the convoy that carries coffins of the Lebanese soldiers who were killed in Islamic State captivity after the official funeral ceremony, in Beirut, Lebanon September 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jamal Saidi

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in July it would be ready to hand over territory it captured if the Lebanese army requested it.

Hezbollah led a campaign in the same area that month to oust the Nusra Front jihadist group from their last foothold along the border.

Army Commander General Joseph Aoun speaks during the offical funeral ceremony for the Lebanese soldiers who were killed in Islamic State captivity at the Ministry of Defense in Yarze village, east of Beirut, Lebanon September 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jamal Saidi

Security sources said Hezbollah had begun handing over points it controlled.

Iran-backed Hezbollah has played a critical role in vanquishing Sunni Muslim jihadists in the border region during the six-year-long Syrian war, part of its military support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The group, an ally of Lebanese President Michel Aoun, was key to the defeat of militants in the Qalamoun area further south in 2015, and at the Syrian town of Qusair, in 2013.

Lebanon’s southern border with Israel, a Hezbollah foe, is patrolled by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.

Reporting by Sarah Dadouch, editing by Larry King

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