ISIS fighters agree to unprecedented forced evacuation from border enclave

BEIRUT, Aug 28 (Reuters) - The Syrian army and Hezbollah on Monday prepared to escort Islamic State fighters to eastern Syria from their enclave on the border with Lebanon under an agreement following a week-long offensive against the jihadist group.

It will end any Sunni militant presence on the border, an important goal for Lebanon and the Shi'ite Hezbollah group, and is the first time Islamic State has publicly agreed to a forced evacuation from territory it held in Syria.

Ambulances carrying 25 injured IS fighters began moving to a marshaling point for the evacuation convoy, a media unit run by Hezbollah reported, while buses to carry the militants and their family members also moved into the area, a witness said.

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Vehicles used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A tank gun hidden inside a truck, made by Islamic State militants, to avoid attack from planes are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
A tank gun hidden inside a truck, made by Islamic State militants, to avoid attack from planes are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
A tank gun hidden inside a truck, made by Islamic State militants, to avoid attack from planes are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Vehicles used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Vehicles used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Vehicles used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
A tank inside a truck, made by Islamic State militants, to avoid attack of the plane is seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Vehicles used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Vehicles used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Vehicles used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Vehicles used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
A vehicle used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, is seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Vehicles used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Vehicles used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Vehicles used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Vehicles used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Vehicles used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
A member of Federal Police inspects vehicles used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
A member of Federal Police walks near vehicles used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Vehicles used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
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Islamic State agreed a ceasefire on Sunday with the Lebanese army on one front and the Syrian army and Hezbollah on the other after losing much of its mountainous enclave straddling the border, paving the way for its evacuation.

Both Hezbollah and Lebanese officials have billed the evacuation as a surrender by the jihadist group.

"We do not bargain. We are in the position of the victor and are imposing conditions," Lebanese Internal Security General Abbas Ibrahim said on Sunday.

Hezbollah, a Lebanese group, has been a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad through Syria's six-year civil war. The Lebanese army said its offensive against Islamic State did not involve coordination with Hezbollah or the Syrian army.

Under the evacuation deal, the militants are to move out of their positions to a point on the Syrian side of the border before their transport to Al-Bukamal in eastern Syria, a Lebanese security source said.

Syria's state-run Ikhbariya news channel reported on Monday that the group was burning its machinery and headquarters.

A witness in Syria at the position where buses were gathering to receive the Islamic State fighters said black smoke was visible in the hills and Syrian army and Hezbollah vehicles were present.

The deal involved Islamic State revealing the fate of nine Lebanese soldiers it captured when it overran the town of Arsal in Lebanon in 2014.

HEZBOLLAH

A senior Lebanese security official said late on Sunday the soldiers were almost certainly dead after recovering six bodies and digging for two others in areas previously held by Islamic State.

Earlier this month, two other pockets straddling the border were recaptured by Lebanon and Syria after other militant groups accepted similar evacuation deals.

Those agreements were prompted by a brief Hezbollah offensive that began at the end of July against militants of the group formerly known as Nusra Front, which was al Qaeda's official partner in Syria until last year.

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Members of the Iraqi Army's 9th Armoured Division stand outside a compound used as a prison by Islamic State militants in the July 17 district, in western Mosul, Iraq, June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis SEARCH "KONSTANTINIDIS PRISON" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A member of the Iraqi Army's 9th Armoured Division stands inside a compound used as a prison by Islamic State militants in the July 17 district, in western Mosul, Iraq, June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis SEARCH "KONSTANTINIDIS PRISON" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A coffee mug is seen on a table at a compound used as a prison by Islamic State militants in the July 17 district, in western Mosul, Iraq, June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis SEARCH "KONSTANTINIDIS PRISON" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A steel gate leads to a section of a compound used as prison for men inside a building abandoned by Islamic State militants in July 17 district, in western Mosul, Iraq June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis SEARCH "KONSTANTINIDIS PRISON" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A member of the Iraqi Army's 9th Armoured Division searches through a desk inside a compound used as a prison by Islamic State militants in the July 17 district, in western Mosul, Iraq, June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis SEARCH "KONSTANTINIDIS PRISON" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Clothing left behind by Islamic State militants is seen on the floor in a compound used as a prison by Islamic State militants in the July 17 district, in western Mosul, Iraq, June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis SEARCH "KONSTANTINIDIS PRISON" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rotten food is seen on a kitchen table inside a compound used as a prison by Islamic State militants in the July 17 district, in western Mosul, Iraq, June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis SEARCH "KONSTANTINIDIS PRISON" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
The photo of an unidentified girl is seen on a desk inside a compound used as prison by Islamic State militants in the July 17 district, in western Mosul, Iraq, June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis SEARCH "KONSTANTINIDIS PRISON" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Mattresses of prisoners are seen inside a compound used as a prison by Islamic State militants in the July 17 district, in western Mosul, Iraq, June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis SEARCH "KONSTANTINIDIS PRISON" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Documents and envelopes are scattered inside an office, at a compound used as a prison by Islamic State militants in the July 17 district, in western Mosul, Iraq, June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis SEARCH "KONSTANTINIDIS PRISON" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Damaged surveillance monitors are seen in the control room in a compound used as a prison by Islamic State militants in the July 17 district, in western Mosul, Iraq, June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis SEARCH "KONSTANTINIDIS PRISON" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Materials for making self-made bombs are seen on the floor inside a compound used as a prison by Islamic State militants in the July 17 district, in western Mosul, Iraq, June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis SEARCH "KONSTANTINIDIS PRISON" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
The shadow of a member of the Iraqi Army's 9th Armoured Division is seen in a room used as a cell for men, inside a compound used as a prison by Islamic State militants in the July 17 district, in western Mosul, Iraq June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis SEARCH "KONSTANTINIDIS PRISON" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A member of the Iraqi Army's 9th Armoured Division holds a self-made bomb found inside a compound used as a prison by Islamic State militants in the July 17 district, in western Mosul, Iraq, June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis SEARCH "KONSTANTINIDIS PRISON" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Members of the Iraqi Army's 9th Armoured Division inspect the cables of the surveillance system inside a compound used as a prison by Islamic State militants in the July 17 district, in western Mosul, Iraq, June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis SEARCH "KONSTANTINIDIS PRISON" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A member of the Iraqi Army's 9th Armoured Division inspects a room used as a cell for women inside a compound used as a prison by Islamic State militants in the July 17 district, in western Mosul, Iraq, June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis SEARCH "KONSTANTINIDIS PRISON" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
The shadow of a member of the Iraqi Army's 9th Armoured Division is seen as he opens a steel gate to a room used as a cell for men, inside a compound used as a prison by Islamic State militants in July 17 district, in western Mosul, Iraq, June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis SEARCH "KONSTANTINIDIS PRISON" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY.
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Hezbollah has maintained a strong presence in the parts of Syria near the border with Lebanon for years, helping Assad to recapture several rebel-held towns and villages there.

The threat to Lebanese territory from rebel and militant groups in Syria was evident in the 2014 attack on Arsal. Suicide bomb attacks struck a predominately Shi'ite area in south Beirut, where Hezbollah is widely supported, in November 2015.

Inside Syria, Islamic State is retreating on all fronts, losing territory both to the Syrian army and its allies, and to an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias backed by a U.S.-led coalition.

(Reporting By Sarah Dadouch and Angus McDowall; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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