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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Lebanese army battling ISIL pays tribute to victims in Spain

Three soldiers were killed on Sunday as the military continued its offensive in the mountainous region, seizing new hills from ISIL

A handout picture released by the Lebanese army on August 19, 2017 shows Lebanese soldiers holding the Spanish flag alongside their own in a show of solidarity with Spain, where attacks claimed by ISIL killed 14 people. Photo via Lebanese army website
A handout picture released by the Lebanese army on August 19, 2017 shows Lebanese soldiers holding the Spanish flag alongside their own in a show of solidarity with Spain, where attacks claimed by ISIL killed 14 people. Photo via Lebanese army website

The Lebanese army raised a Spanish flag alongside their own on a Lebanese-Syrian border hill, which was seized from ISIL on Saturday, in a tribute to the victims of ISIL-claimed attacks in Spain.

“A salute from our troops fighting ISIL in Jurud Ras Baalbeck to the victims of [the attacks] in Spain and the whole world,” said a statement.

Three soldiers were killed on Sunday as the military continued its offensive in the mountainous region, seizing new hills from ISIL.

“A landmine exploded in Jurud Arsal on [Sunday] afternoon, resulting in the death of three soldiers and the serious injury of one,” the Lebanese army said.

On Saturday, the army launched the biggest military operation against ISIL, which in 2014 gained a foothold along Lebanon’s border with Syria. They captured 30 square kilometres of territory.

“That is around a third of the area controlled by the terrorists,” said Brig Gen Nazih Jreij.

The offensive in Lebanon comes after ISIL claimed a number of international attacks, including twin car ramming incidents in Spain that killed 14 people.

Lebanon's military estimated around 600 ISIL fighters were present in the Jurud Ras Baalbek and Jurud Al Qaa areas, controlling around 120 square kilometres of territory before Saturday's advances.

On Sunday, Lebanon's National News Agency reported soldiers were firing heavy artillery and rockets at ISIL positions in Jurud Ras Baalbek.

The army's assault comes after Lebanon's powerful Shiite militant group Hizbollah waged its own campaign against jihadists operating in another border area south of the current battle.

The group's six-day offensive against ISIL and Al Qaeda's former affiliate in the Jurud Arsal area ended with a ceasefire.

The agreement saw around 8,000 refugees and jihadists transported to a jihadist-held area of northwestern Syria in return for the release of five captured Hizbollah fighters.

Hizbollah said Saturday it had launched a simultaneous operation against ISIL from the Syrian side of the border, where the group's fighters are battling alongside president Bashar Al Assad's army against rebels.

Lebanon's army denied any co-ordination with Hizbollah or the Syrian army.

Hizbollah's War Media outlet said its fighters and the Syrian army had on Saturday "managed to liberate 87 square kilometres of the total area controlled by the [ISIL] organisation … in western Qalamun region" of Syria.

* Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse