Hezbollah announces ceasefire with Sunni jihadists near Arsal

Social media accounts linked to Hezbollah, as well as its Al Manar website, announced a ceasefire with Sunni jihadists in the Jurud Arsal area of Lebanon.

According to Al Manar, the fighting between the Shiite jihadists and militants belonging to al Qaeda’s branch in Syria (now part of Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, HTS) stopped early this morning. The HTS militants have agreed to release five Hezbollah prisoners, as well as retreat with their families to Idlib in northwestern Syria.

The deal was confirmed by Lebanon’s National News Agency as being brokered by Abbas Ibrahim, the head of Lebanon’s General Security intelligence agency. More details are expected to be released in a larger announcement of the ceasefire by the Lebanese government. HTS has not commented on the ceasefire as of the time of publication.

The ceasefire comes just one day after Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah addressed the situation in Arsal in a televised address. Nasrallah noted that the HTS fighters have lost the majority of the ground they once held in the Arsal area. He added that “we are in the face of a very big military victory.”

Nasrallah also thanked the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) for its role in the operation. “Despite the difficult battle, the town of Arsal remained safe thanks to the army,” Nasrallah said. He added the LAF’s role was “essential in the realization of this achievement.” He ended by offering to transfer the ground captured by Hezbollah in the region over to LAF after the operation.

Despite claims to the contrary, the LAF coordinated its efforts in Arsal with the Shiite jihadist forces. LAF troops were positioned in the city and its outskirts to protect the area from any potential flow of Sunni militants into the vicinity. This was after Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said that the military would be the one undertaking the offensive to push out the militants. [See Threat Matrix report, Lebanese military coordinates with Hezbollah, Syrian military in border operation.]

Earlier this week, the Shiite jihadist group issued an ultimatum to the Sunni forces in the area. Al Manar reported that Hezbollah leadership in the operation called “on armed groups remaining in Jurud Arsal to spare their blood by throwing down their weapons and surrendering themselves with guarantees for their safety.” [See Threat Matrix report, Hezbollah issues ultimatum to Sunni jihadists in Arsal battle.]

With the reported ceasefire in Jurud Arsal, it appears that the ultimatum worked for Hezbollah. However, the battle to drive militants loyal to the Islamic State out of the area has yet to begin.

Caleb Weiss is an editor of FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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