Middle East

Lebanese army recaptures third of IS stronghold near Ras Baalbek

Handout from the Lebanese army shows troops waving both the Lebanese and Spanish flags in the territory of Ras Baalbek Image copyright lebarmy.gov.lb
Image caption The Lebanese army posted an image as a "salute" to the victims of Thursday's Barcelona attack

The Lebanese army has recaptured a third of an enclave held by so-called Islamic State near the north-eastern border with Syria, officials say.

Troops launched an offensive near the town of Ras Baalbek on Saturday.

The army says there are about 600 militants in the mountainous area, which IS has held since 2014 and is the group's last stronghold in the country.

About 20 militants have been killed in the latest operation and 10 soldiers have been injured, the military says.

The offensive was aimed at ridding the area of IS militants, who are armed with anti-aircraft and armour-piercing missiles and drones, the Lebanese army said.

Youssef Roufeyel, a resident of Ras Baalbek, told Reuters news agency that local people would do whatever was necessary for victory.

"This battle requires help and support from the people, and we are behind the army and by their side," he said.

The Lebanese army later posted an image on its website showing its troops waving both a Lebanese and a Spanish flag in Ras Baalbek in what it described as a "salute from our troops" to the victims of the Barcelona terror attack in which 13 people were killed on Thursday.

IS said it had carried out the attack, which took place in the city's famous Las Ramblas district, though it is not clear whether any of the attackers were directly connected to the group or simply inspired by it.

The latest operation in Lebanon comes as IS faces a number of military strikes on territory it controls in both Syria and neighbouring Iraq, where a brutal fight to rid Mosul of its militants left the city in ruins.

Militants have long been active in mountainous eastern Lebanon near the border with Syria, where a bloody civil war has raged since 2011.

Meanwhile, the Syrian army and the Lebanese Shia Islamist group, Hezbollah, announced their own offensive against IS, though Lebanon said that the two operations were not connected.

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