November 14, 2015 / 3:43 PM / 2 years ago

Syria's Nusra Front says it has captured Hezbollah fighters near Aleppo

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria’s al Qaeda offshoot, the Nusra Front, said on Saturday it had captured three Lebanese Hezbollah fighters in northern Syria.

Scores of Hezbollah fighters have been killed battling rebels on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, but relatively few have been taken captive.

A video released by the hardline Islamist group showed three men purported to be wounded fighters, and said they had been involved in a major campaign in the countryside south of Aleppo, fighting alongside Iranian troops and the Syrian army.

The area is one where the Syrian army has been making a major push, with Russian air support and Iranian military aid.

The Nusra Front has been trying to exchange at least 16 Lebanese soldiers it captured during skirmishes in the border town of Arsal in August 2014 for hardline Islamists held in Lebanon.

It has killed at least four soldiers since last year to put pressure on Lebanon to accept a swap, but so far without success. Meanwhile, Lebanese security forces have cracked down on Nusra sympathizers and stepped up border controls.

Hezbollah in Lebanon did not immediately comment on the latest incident, but Lebanese security sources said the militiamen had inadvertently found themselves in an area controlled by the Nusra Front, and confirmed they had been captured.

Hezbollah, a Shi‘ite Islamist militia, has sent hundreds of fighters across the border to support Assad’s forces in the four-year-old conflict over the border.

The Syrian army has in recent days has made rapid advances in its Aleppo offensive, targeting a large area to the south of the city, near the highway to Damascus.

It captured the major town of Al Hader and surrounding areas on Thursday and is pushing to disrupt rebel supply lines to the northwesterly province of Idlib.

The army also said it had made further gains on Saturday against the militants of Islamic State elsewhere in Aleppo province, close to an air base where this week it broke a nearly two-year siege by Islamic State.

Reporting by Laila Bassam, Mariam Karouny and Suleiman al-Khalidi; Writing by Suleiman al-Khalidi; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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