July 30, 2017 / 8:12 AM / 3 months ago

8,000 to leave Syria-Lebanon border zone as ceasefire deal advances

BEIRUT (Reuters) - About 8,000 people have registered to leave the Lebanese border region near Arsal for a rebel-held area of Syria as part of a local ceasefire between Hezbollah and the Nusra Front, a security source in Lebanon said on Sunday.

A Hezbollah fighter stands in front of anti-tank artillery at Juroud Arsal, the Syria-Lebanon border, July 29, 2017. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho

The local ceasefire came into effect on Thursday and will involve the departure of all Nusra militants from the area around Arsal along with any of the civilians living in the area’s refugee camps who wish to leave with them.

The first step in the ceasefire took place on Sunday as the two sides started to exchange the bodies of fighters killed in clashes between them. Five Hezbollah prisoners held by Nusra will be released as part of the agreement.

Nusra and the Islamic State group have been present in the mountains near Arsal in northern Lebanon for years, the most serious spill-over of Syria’s civil war into its neighbor.

Shi‘ite Hezbollah retook most of the area held by Nusra during an offensive last week that killed nearly 150 of the Sunni militants and about two dozen Hezbollah fighters.

Hezbollah, which has had an important role in the Syrian civil war supporting President Bashar al-Assad, is expected to launch an offensive against a smaller Islamic State enclave near Arsal.

Reporting by Angus McDowall; Editing by Keith Weir and Robin Pomeroy

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