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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

US-led coalition says still monitoring ISIL convoy in Syria

The US-led coalition against ISIL has used air strikes to block the convoy from crossing into the group's main territory straddling Syria's eastern border with Iraq

US army Col Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the US-led coalition against ISIL, said the coalition was still monitoring the ISIL convoy in Syria. In this picture, taken on August 24, 2017, he is speaking at a press conference in Baghdad, Iraq. Karim Kadim / The Associated Press
US army Col Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the US-led coalition against ISIL, said the coalition was still monitoring the ISIL convoy in Syria. In this picture, taken on August 24, 2017, he is speaking at a press conference in Baghdad, Iraq. Karim Kadim / The Associated Press

A convoy of ISIL fighters and their families being evacuated into jihadist territory in east Syria remained in government-held areas of Syria on Friday, US-led forces said.

"It has not managed to link up with any other ISIS elements in eastern Syria," said Col Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting ISIL.

There are about 300 fighters and about 300 civilians in the convoy, which the Syrian army and Lebanon's Hizbollah group granted safe passage after the jihadists surrendered their enclave on Syria's border with Lebanon.

But the coalition against ISIL has used air strikes to block the convoy from crossing into the group's main territory straddling Syria's eastern border with Iraq.

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The ISIL fighters in the border pocket accepted a truce and evacuation deal after simultaneous but separate offensives by the Lebanese army on one front and the Syrian army and Hizbollah on the other.

It angered both the coalition, which does not want the fighters bussed to a battlefront in which it is active, and Iraq, which is fighting ISIL across the border.

"We are continuing to monitor that convoy and will continue to disrupt its movement east to link up with any other ISIS element and we will continue to strike any other ISIS elements that try to move towards it," Col Dillon said.

The coalition has asked Russia to tell the Syrian government that it will not allow the convoy to move further east to the Iraqi border, the coalition said in a statement.

Syrian president Bashar Al Assad gave prayers on Friday for Eid Al Adha festival in the town of Qara, near the enclave surrendered on Monday by the ISIL fighters.

Confined to Damascus for long periods in the early part of Syria's six-year civil war, Mr Assad has grown more confident in travelling around government-held areas as the army and its allies have won a series of victories.

Mr Assad was shown on state television standing and kneeling on a green carpet in a packed mosque alongside Syrian religious leaders as he followed the imam giving prayers.

Read more: France calls for transition from Assad rule is Syria

The departure of ISIL and other groups from the Western Qalamoun district means the border with Lebanon is Syria's first to be controlled entirely by its army since early in the conflict.

Qara is only a few miles from the mountains delineating the frontier with Lebanon, in which ISIL and other militant groups held territory until August.

Part of an agreed exchange under the truce went ahead on Thursday as woundedISIL fighters were swapped for the bodies of pro-government forces. But the fate of the main part of the convoy is uncertain.

"It was moving this morning and then they had stopped … I don't know if they stopped for a break or were trying to figure out what to do," Col Dillon said.

The front line between Syrian government forces and ISIL in eastern Syria is active, as the army, aided by Russian jets and Iran-backed Shiite militias, presses an offensive to relieve its besieged enclave at Deir azzor.

On Friday, a Syrian military source said the army and its allies had made an advance against ISIL in that area and had also taken several villages in a jihadist enclave in central Syria.

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