BEIRUT (AP) — Hezbollah gunmen repelled an attack Tuesday by Islamic State extremists in an area along the Lebanon-Syria border as a major battle between the two groups looms in the rugged mountainous region, Hezbollah’s TV station reported.
According to Al-Manar TV, the IS group targeted several Hezbollah positions outside the northeastern Lebanese border village of Ras Baalbek.
The ensuing battle left at least five IS fighters dead or wounded, including the group’s leader in the Qalamoun border region identified as Saudi national Walid Abdel Mohsen al-Omari, the channel said. It did not say whether there were casualties among Hezbollah fighters.
Al-Manar said Hezbollah also captured 14 IS bodies the militants were unable to retrieve.
Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Shiite group, has been on the offensive in Syria’s Qalamoun mountains for weeks and has captured territory from al-Qaida’s branch in Syria, the Nusra Front. With the Nusra Front almost defeated in the area, a major battle is expected between Hezbollah and the Islamic State group.
Hezbollah is deeply involved in Syria’s civil war, fighting alongside President Bashar Assad’s forces. The Lebanese group cites fears the Sunni militants will sweep through Shiite and Christian villages in diverse Lebanon as the reason for its involvement in Syria.
The total area of the Qalamoun mountains that is being contested is about 1,000 square kilometers (386 square miles) — of which 340 square kilometers (131 square miles) lie in Lebanon and are under the control of IS militants and the Nusra Front, according to Hezbollah.
On Monday, Al-Manar said that Hezbollah fighters and Syrian troops have so far captured half the area.
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