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US-led strikes in Syria block IS militants evacuated from Lebanon

A convoy of Islamic State fighters and their families leave the Lebanon-Syria border zone (28 August 2017)Image copyright
Reuters

Image caption

IS militants and their families were photographed leaving the border zone on Monday

US-led coalition aircraft have carried out strikes to halt a convoy evacuating Islamic State militants from the Lebanon-Syria border area towards Iraq.

The attacks “cratered” a road and destroyed a small bridge in eastern Syria, spokesman Col Ryan Dillon said.

Earlier, the US envoy to the coalition condemned the evacuation, which was negotiated by the Lebanese army, the Syrian army and its ally Hezbollah.

Brett McGurk insisted that “terrorists should be killed on the battlefield”.

He also said the coalition would help ensure they “can never enter Iraq”.

Lebanese, Syrian and Hezbollah forces agreed ceasefires with IS militants near the town of Ras Baalbek last week, only days after launching simultaneous offensives on the jihadists’ final foothold in the border area.

In exchange for turning over the bodies of several Lebanese soldiers captured in 2014, the militants and their families were allowed to leave for Albu Kamal, a town in the Syrian province of Deir al-Zour that is 6km (4 miles) from the Iraqi border.

After announcing the air strikes aimed at blocking the convoy on Wednesday, Col Dillon stressed that the coalition was “not bound by these agreements”.

“They’re clearly fighters and they’re moving to another location to fight yet again,” he told Reuters news agency. “In accordance with the law of armed conflict… we will strike them if we are able to do so.”

Earlier, Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun hailed a “victory over terrorism”.

His army chief, Gen Joseph Aoun, meanwhile defended the evacuation deal, saying he had wanted to find the missing soldiers and not risk any more lives.

“I had two choices – either I continue the battle and not know the soldiers’ fate, or I submit to the situation and find out. Their souls are my responsibility,” he said.

The two men spoke shortly after Mr McGurk denounced the evacuation.

“Irreconcilable ISIS terrorists should be killed on the battlefield, not bussed across Syria to the Iraqi border without Iraq’s consent,” he wrote on Twitter.

“Our coalition will help ensure that these terrorists can never enter Iraq or escape from what remains of their dwindling ‘caliphate’.”

Iraq’s Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, also criticised the deal, calling it “unacceptable” and an “insult to the Iraqi people”.

“We fight the terrorists in Iraq. We do not send them to Syria,” he said in a speech.

US-led strikes in Syria block IS militants evacuated from Lebanon}

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