Thursday, June 11, 2015

Hezbollah announces battle with ISIS on Syria-Lebanon border

Beirut (AFP) - The head of Lebanon's Hezbollah movement announced Wednesday that the powerful Shiite militia had begun to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria group along the rugged Syrian-Lebanese border.

"The battle with Daesh in Qalamun has begun, in the eastern (mountain) chain and on the Syrian-Lebanese border," Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech, referring to ISIS by its Arabic acronym.

He said fierce clashes had left dozens of ISIS fighters dead, and that Hezbollah had lost men, without specifying a number.

"They (ISIS) began the fighting, but we will continue the battle," Nasrallah said.

Lebanon Gets More US Arms - Or Is It Hezbollah?
Lebanon last week received a shipment of U.S. arms worth $146 million. The arms consisted of AGM-114 Hellfire II missiles, the third major arms shipment the country has received this year.

Sources in Lebanon said that the weapons would be used to battle Islamic State and Islamist groups in Syria that have been conducting skirmishes along the border. Among the targets of the Lebanese Army is the town of Arsal in the country's northeast, which Islamic militants have been jousting for control of in recent months.

However, many in Israel have expressed fear that those weapons could end up in the hands of arch-terror group Hezbollah.

In February, the U.S. sent to Lebanon over 70 M198 Howitzers, as well as tens of millions of rounds of ammunition. Before that, Beirut received over 50 Humvees. Over the past decade, officials said, the U.S. has donated over a billion dollars in aid to the Lebanese army, although until this year most of that was for non-lethal materials.

Many, however, fear that the new weapons could end up in the hands of Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, which works closely with the Lebanese army to combat Sunni Islamists who have taken over large parts of Syria. In a recent Washington Post article, Tony Badran, a Middle East analyst at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said that “in the eastern Bekaa area, the LAF (Lebanese Armed Forces) is playing a direct support role for Hezbollah operations, and, for example, they will deploy to areas that Hezbollah has cleared and then set up checkpoints.

Last November, France and Saudi Arabia said they had signed an arms deal, by which France will receive $3 billion to send weapons to the Lebanese army.