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Lebanon army launches offensive against ISIS on Syria border

BEIRUT, Lebanon – Lebanese troops launched an offensive against the Islamic State (ISIS) group on Saturday, August 19, close to the Syrian border where the jihadists have been active for several years.

The operation follows one by Shiite militant group Hezbollah last month against jihadists in another border area further south. (READ: Who's who in the Syria conflict)

Hezbollah is deeply embroiled in the civil war that has raged in neighboring Syria since 2011, fighting in support of President Basher al-Sad's regime.

The Lebanese army has sought to keep out of the conflict but has been forced to take action since jihadists of ISIS and then Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nassau Front assaulted the border town of Arras in 2014 and abducted 30 soldiers and police.

"In the name of Lebanon, in the name of kidnapped Lebanese soldiers, in the name of martyrs of the army, I announce that operation 'Dawn of Jury' has started," army chief General Joseph Noun said Saturday.

He was referring to two mountainous border areas – Jury Rasa Balked and Jury al-Qua – where ISIS has been active. (READ: ISIS territory shrinks 12% since start of 2016 – British think-tank)

"The army is confronting the Daesh terrorists to chase them out and recover territory," army spokesman General Ail Kansas said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS. "We have no fear of Daesh."

Kansas said the army believed there were around 600 ISIS fighters in the two areas, controlling some 120 square kilometers of territory.

Hezbollah said it had launched a simultaneous operation against the jihadists from the Syrian side of the border but the army spokesman denied there had been any coordination.

Nine Lebanese soldiers captured during the 2014 raid are believed to remain in the hands of the jihadists.

Four were executed by their captors while a fifth died of his wounds. Sixteen were released in a prisoner swap in December 2015.

Last month, Hezbollah carried out a 6-day offensive against ISIS and Al-Qaeda's former affiliate in the Jury Arras district further south. (READ: Who's who in the fight against the Islamic State group)

It ended with a ceasefire under which nearly 8,000 refugees and jihadists were transported to a jihadist-held area of northwestern Syria in return for the release of five captured Hezbollah fighters.

The evacuations were completed on Monday, August 14.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah vowed earlier this month to clear the whole border area of jihadists, saying it was in the interests of both Lebanon and Syria.

Lebanon, a country of some 4 million people, hosts more than a million Syrian refugees. – Rappler.com