Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Syrian army launched an offensive to drive insurgents from their last foothold on the Syrian-Lebanese border on Friday, a pro-Damascus military commander said.
The operation targeted insurgents from the Nusra Front group in the mountainous outskirts of the Lebanese town of Arsal and areas near the Syrian town of Fleita, the commander said:, reports Reuters.
Media run by Hezbollah reported significant gains by its side in the early stage of the operation.
A Lebanese security source said refugees living in the area were fleeing toward Arsal and the Lebanese army was facilitating their passage with U.N. supervision.
U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) spokeswoman Lisa Abou Khaled said only a small number of people had fled to Arsal town so far.
“UNHCR has only received confirmation … that two Syrian families have arrived in the town of Arsal from the outskirts,” she said Several thousand Syrian refugees occupy camps east of the town in an area known as Juroud Arsal, a barren mountainous zone between Syria and Lebanon that has served as a base for Islamic State militants, jihadists and other rebels fighting in Syria’s six year civil war.
Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV said Nusra militants were under attack in Juroud Arsal and in areas near the Syrian town of Fleita. A military news outlet run by Hezbollah reported Syrian army air strikes on Nusra positions near Fleita.
Al-Manar broadcast footage showing an artillery gun being fired from the back of a truck flying the Hezbollah flag. Plumes of smoke were shown rising from the hills.
Hezbollah, a Shi’ite group backed by Iran, has played a critical part in previous campaigns against insurgents along the border, part of the much wider role it has played supporting President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian war.