Lebanon halts anti-IS battle at Syria border

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The army has said the remaining missing troops were its "top concern" in its offensive against an estimated 600 ISIS fighters in the hilly border region. Lebanon and Shi'ite Hezbollah each said they have made gains against the militants, driving them back into a smaller zone in the arid hills on the border.

Sixty-two Lebanese soldiers have been killed by ISIL or Syria's former Al Qaeda affiliate in and around Arsal since 2013, the Lebanese army spokesman said. The fate of nine soldiers that Islamic State took captive then remains unknown.

The ceasefire takes effect at 7am local time (04:00 GMT) on Sunday in order to determine the fate of the nine Lebanese soldiers who are in ISIL captivity, the military statement said.

The head of Lebanon's General Security body, Major General Abbas Ibrahim, oversaw the release efforts in 2015.

Several ministers arrived in an army command centre in Ras Baalbeck on Sunday to monitor the situation.

Coordinating with Hezbollah would be politically sensitive as Lebanon is a United States ally, and the USA has designated Hezbollah a terrorist organization. Senior officials of the Syrian troops repeatedly stated that they would not rest until they exterminate or capture the last terrorist within the Syrian-Lebanese territorial limits.

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"After the successes our armed forces and (Hezbollah) achieved in the western Qalamoun. the deal arranged between Hezbollah and the terrorist Daesh group has been approved", Syrian state television said, citing a military source.

Hezbollah has been fighting alongside troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad since the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011.

In a speech last week, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said the Iran-backed group had begun talks with Daesh on a truce. They did not confirm whether they have defeated the so called Islamic State.

Both the pro-Assad alliance and the Lebanese army have advanced towards the Syrian-Lebanese border from their respective sides. The Lebanese government adopted an official policy of neutrality when the Syrian civil war began six years ago, but a visit by three Lebanese ministers to Damascus earlier this month pointed to a thawing of relations - though it drew condemnation from other Lebanese politicians.

"We see no evidence of substantive cooperation (between the army and Hezbollah)", the diplomat added.

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