Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on Wednesday declared a “major victory” in his group's offensive against the jihadist al-Nusra Front group in the outskirts of the eastern border town of Arsal, while announcing that Hizbullah is willing to hand over all captured territory to the Lebanese army.
“The Arsal battle had been planned since 2015... It was not an Iranian or a Syrian decision and we contacted the Syrian leadership and asked for their help in Flita,” said Nasrallah in a televised speech.
“Whoever has the slightest military knowledge would know that such a decision cannot be taken days before the battle, which needed preparation and is not linked to any political developments,” Nasrallah noted.
He boasted that “we are before a military victory that was achieved in 48 hours, surprising everyone,” pointing out that it was reached “with the least possible cost in terms of casualties.”
Turning to the Lebanese army's role in the ongoing developments, Nasrallah emphasized that what the army has done “in Arsal's vicinity and on the frontier was essential in the realization of this achievement.”
“The Lebanese army's approach foiled the ambitions of those who sought to exploit the situation in Arsal and were betting on stirring sedition,” Nasrallah added.
“Despite the difficult battle, the town of Arsal remained safe thanks to the army,” he underlined.
“Hizbullah does not want for Arsal and its residents anything but welfare, security, safety and dignity, and when the battle ends, we're ready -- if the Army Command asks -- to hand it over all of the recaptured posts and territory,” Nasrallah stressed.
As for the current situation on the ground, Hizbullah's chief said “progress is continuous.”
“I have asked the fighters to advance in a calculated manner and not to rush things, seeing as al-Nusra's remnants are encircled in a narrow area near refugee encampments. The operations must very accurate and there should be high caution in order to prevent any mistake,” Nasrallah noted.
“The mujahideen have achieved a major victory with the least possible casualties and we are very keen on our fighters,” he added.
“I call on friends and media outlets not to set a timeframe for us. The operation has truly neared its end but time is on our side and we must not rush things. We must also give a chance to a possible settlement through the ongoing negotiations for the withdrawal of the militants under certain conditions,” Nasrallah said.
He revealed that the “serious negotiations” had started on Tuesday that “an official Lebanese side” is in charge of the mediation.
“Al-Nusra's leadership in Arsal or Idlib must realize that the situation on the ground does not put it in a position that enables it to impose conditions. There is a chance now but there is not much time left and therefore they are asked to show more seriousness,” Nasrallah urged.
He added: “There are two tracks – combat and negotiations – and the two tracks are currently being pursued and we're trying to be patient in order to reach the needed result.”
And announced that al-Nusra Front's “military chapter in Lebanon has ended,” Nasrallah said Hizbullah “dedicates this victory to all Lebanese and the peoples in the region who have suffered from terrorism and takfiri brutality.”
As for the outskirts of the border towns of Ras Baalbek and al-Qaa, which are occupied by the jihadist Islamic State group, Nasrallah said he would address the issue “after the end of al-Nusra's file.”
Reinforcements from the army's elite units were pouring into the Bekaa region on Wednesday for a possible anti-IS operation in the outskirts of al-Qaa and Ras Baalbek.
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