Hezbollah fighters released by HTS in Syria
On its Al Manar website today, Hezbollah announced that it had received five of its fighters that were held captive by Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (HTS) in western Syria.
In a video released by Hezbollah’s War Media Center and later re-broadcasted on Al Manar, the five militants are seen conducting a press conference for various Lebanese news organizations. The five are dressed in stoles featuring the Shiite jihadist group’s logo and the face of its leader, Hassan Nasrallah. One militant, which was previously featured in HTS media, expressed thanks to various parties for their release.
“We say thank you to Doctor Bashar Hafez al Assad and the Syrian Arab Army who was behind our liberation,” he stated. He continued by saying, “Additionally, we thank the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran who was prominent in this agreement.” He ended the short speech by adding that the prisoners had “no doubt that the Islamic Resistance would liberate us.”
The five Hezbollah members were freed as part of a ceasefire deal with HTS militants (which includes al Qaeda’s branch in Syria) in the Jurud Arsal area of Lebanon. The HTS militants agreed to release the five prisoners, as well as retreat with their families to Idlib in northwestern Syria, in exchange for Hezbollah stopping its offensive. 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. [See Threat Matrix report, Hezbollah announces ceasefire with Sunni jihadists near Arsal.]
The Shiite jihadists also released a video showing the evacuation of HTS militants and their families from Lebanon today. A large convoy of tour buses was filmed by a Hezbollah drone. Some Sunni militants were also photographed prior to their departure. In addition, a large welcome parade was held for the former prisoners in the Lebanese border town of Al Qaa.
The Hezbollah-led offensive in the Lebanon-Syria border area began late last month. On the Syrian side, Hezbollah was supported by Syrian army troops and airstrikes. While on the Lebanese side, it was supported by Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) mortar strikes. The LAF also protected the nearby town of Arsal during the operation. This role was praised by Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah in a recent speech. [See Threat Matrix reports, Lebanese military coordinates with Hezbollah, Syrian military in border operation and Hezbollah announces ceasefire with Sunni jihadists near Arsal.]
Parade of the freed prisoners in the Lebanese town of Al Qaa:
Hezbollah video showing the transfer of the Sunni militants and their families to Syria:
Article updated with new information.