BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the Syrian conflict and the war against the Islamic State group (all times local):
Hezbollah says the deal it negotiated to evacuate Islamic State militants from the Lebanon-Syria border was the “only way” to resolve the “national and humanitarian” case of determining the fate of Lebanese soldiers captured three years ago and later killed.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was responding Wednesday to criticism of the deal, which was to allow over 300 militants and their families to relocate to an IS-held area in eastern Syria, near the border with Iraq.
The U.S.-led coalition and Iraq criticized the deal. Coalition warplanes disrupted the transfer by bombing a small bridge, cratering a road and striking another group of IS militants who were traveling to meet the convoy, which is now stuck in Syrian government-held territory.
Nasrallah said in a statement that the evacuation will not change the battle for the largely IS-controlled Deir el-Zour province, where thousands of fighters are based.
He said Hezbollah fighters and Syrian troops are engaged in the battle for the province. “We transported those defeated militants from one front we fight in to another front we also fight in,” he said.
U.S. officials say their patrols in northern Syria have come under fire several times from areas controlled by Turkish-backed Syrian forces, sparking a protest from Washington.
Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the U.S-led coalition, said Wednesday the attacks occurred over the last two weeks against patrols flying U.S. flags in the Manbij area, a flashpoint between Turkey-backed opposition fighters and U.S.-backed Kurdish forces.
Dillon says U.S. forces returned fire with “less than 100 rounds” once on Aug. 21.
The incident was conveyed to Turkey, he said. In a statement, the coalition says there were no casualties or damage to equipment, adding that any action that endangers coalition forces is “unacceptable.”
The incidents were first reported by CNN.
The U.S.-led coalition says it has struck an Islamic State convoy coming from militant-held territory in Syria to meet IS evacuees being transferred there under a controversial deal brokered by Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group.
U.S. officials have criticized the transfer of hundreds of militants and civilians who are bound for an IS-held area near the Iraqi border, saying the extremists should be killed on the battlefield.
Col. Ryan Dillon says Wednesday’s airstrike hit vehicles identified as belonging to IS that were traveling from IS-held territory toward the convoy.
Coalition officials say they are not bound by the evacuation agreement and may strike the evacuees themselves. An earlier coalition airstrike destroyed a small bridge and cratered a road, hindering the movement of the evacuees.
There are about 300 militants and almost as many family members on buses being evacuated under the deal, which ended the IS presence along the Lebanon-Syria border.