Hezbollah, Syria army launch offensive at border

Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Syrian army launched an offensive on Friday to drive insurgents from their last foothold on the Syrian-Lebanese border, 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. Media run by Hezbollah reported significant gains by its side in the early stage of the operation. It later said Hezbollah fighters had captured the Sahl al Rahwa area, taking over a Nusra operations centre, after driving militants out.
At least 23 of the militants had been killed in the first day of fighting, a security source said, as well as five Hezbollah combatants.
The Lebanese army, which assumed a defensive position around the town of Arsal, raised its alert level and was carrying out strict security measures including patrols and guarding the entrances to the town. The army later stopped an attempt by militants to breach its defences, military sources said.
A Lebanese security source said refugees living in the area were fleeing towards Arsal and the Lebanese army was facilitating their passage with UN supervision.
UN refugee agency (UNHCR) spokeswoman Lisa Abou Khaled said only a small number of people had fled to Arsal so far.
“UNHCR has only received confirmation… that two Syrian families have arrived in the town of Arsal from the outskirts.”
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 IS militants and other militants and rebels fighting in Syria’s six-year-old 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. — Reuters