Situation Report – Da’esh (ISIS/ ISIL) jihadists and their families were evacuated from Qara, western Qalamun (around the Syrian-Lebanese border) to Abu Kamal, Deir ez-Zor governorate, near Iraq on Monday. According to reports, around 308 ISIS militants and 331 civilians were evacuated. This comes after a deal was struck between the stranded fighters on the Lebanese-Syrian pocket, extended from Western Qalamun of in-between Syria’s Homs and Rural Damascus provinces to the Lebanese towns of Afat and Ras Belbek, with Hezbollah and Bashar al-Assad’s Regime forces.
Video of the evacuation of ISIS fighters, issued by Ruptly (Russia Today/ RT):
IS fighters are reportedly evacuated from Western Qalamoun in Syria following a ceasefire deal https://t.co/5HHVUdQIFT pic.twitter.com/VLLh4hdflm
— Ruptly (@Ruptly) August 29, 2017
First reports came in during the days of Friday and Saturday (26th August) in regards to a ceasefire being in place to facilitate evacuation talks resulted after a weeks-long drive by the Lebanese Army in the near-by mountains, parallel with an offensive led by Hezbollah and auxiliary Syrian units that saw a massive bombardment of Halimah Qaarrah, highest peak in ISIS control. Regime sources suggested that both sides were opened to negotiations, but chances were low to succeed as ISIS fighters never agreed before towards such an arrangement; while the Syrian forces frequently evacuated Rebels with the famous ‘green buses’ from disputed areas under different truces.
In retrospective, on July 31st 2017, around 8,000 fighters of the Al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) were evacuated from Arsal mountains (same area) under an agreement with the Lebanese militia. Based on that move, Hezbollah was able to move and take control of those abandoned points that later on served as a staging area for the recent offensive on ISIS in western Qalamoun that led to the same ending.
#Syria | Situation in West Qalamoun; 20 August 2017 – 28 August 2017
Map via @A7_Mirza pic.twitter.com/jlysbVRHoL
— Mustafa Weber (@MustafaWeber) August 29, 2017
Lebanese President, Michael Oun officially declared Lebanon free of ISIS, after his country was the scene of a potential-catastrophic spill-over from the Syrian Civil War, hosting battles between ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and other Rebels on the border mountains that cost the lives of civilians and soldiers. While this move does indeed free a patch of land from ISIS control, it simply snoozes a larger military effort by transporting them in Deir ez-Zor, where two competitive offensives are expected to set the stage for the terror group’s end in Syria. Read an extensive analysis on the subject here.
Special Presidential Envoy to the U.S.-led Global Coalition against ISIS, Bret McGurk condemned the Regime’s deal with ISIS to evacuate the terrorists to Abu Kamal, Deir ez-Zor, saying that “ISIS fighters should be killed on the battlefield”. Iraqi Prime-Minister Abadi also expressed great concern that a wave of ISIS fighters is allowed to move freely to the Iraqi border. He said that the deal was “unacceptable” and an “insult to the Iraqi people”.
U.S.-led Coalition threatened to bomb the convoy but are still assessing whether there are a civilians present. Islamic State fighters were believed to be accompanied by family members in 17 buses and 11 ambulances, and at least 25 of them were wounded, according to statements by Hezbollah officials in Lebanon.
“We’ve seen ISIS use protective sites like hospitals and mosques, seen them drive in ambulances,” Colonel Ryan said. “So if we do identify and find ISIS fighters who have weapons — and like I said, we can discriminate between civilians and ISIS fighters — we will strike when we can. If we are able to do so, we will.”
Other ISIS areas
Outside Deir ez-Zor, ISIS controls small pockets in:
- Rural Quneitra Province near Israel’s border in the Golan Heights,
- and in Yormouk, a district of Damascus that hosts a significant Palestinian refugee camp.
Should be noted that the mentioned turfs are not directly controlled by ISIS but by affiliated groups, such as Khalid ibn al-Walid; a Salafist Jihadist faction formed in 2016 after the merger of Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, Mutha’ana Movement and the Army of Jihad.
UPDATE September 5, 2017
According to the US-led Global anti-ISIS Coalition:
“Today is the seventh day ISIS fighters and their families have spent with a bus convoy now stalled in the Syrian Desert east of As Sukhnah.
The convoy, initially consisting of 17 buses and other support vehicles, was halted in its move toward Iraq on Aug. 29 by Coalition strikes that prevented its movement to the east.
The Coalition and our Iraqi partners were not a party to the agreement between the Lebanese Hezbollah, the Syrian regime and ISIS to allow these experienced fighters to transit territory under Syrian regime control to the Iraqi border. The Coalition has been clear, that in support of our Iraqi partners, we will not allow the movement of ISIS fighters near the border or onto sovereign Iraqi soil.
The Coalition has never struck the convoy, and has allowed food and water deliveries to reach the stranded women and children. The Coalition will continue to take action against ISIS whenever and wherever we are able without harming non-combatants.
Coalition leaders have communicated a course of action to the Russians, providing the Syrian regime an opportunity to remove the women and children from this situation. “The Syrian regime is letting women and children suffer in the desert. This situation is completely on them,” said Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, commander of the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve.
Over the past week, 6 of the 17 buses have returned westward toward Palmyra, back in Syrian regime territory, unimpeded by any Coalition action. The Coalition continues to monitor the remaining 11 buses and communicate with Russian officials who advise the Syrian regime.”
UPDATE September 2, 2017
The Coalition issued updates on the status of the ISIS convoy:
“After turning around and heading back west from the Abul Kamal area, the convoy of 17 buses containing hundreds of armed ISIS fighters and their families remains in the Syrian Desert between Humayma and As Sukhnah.
The Coalition has not struck the convoy. In accordance with the law of armed conflict, the Coalition has struck ISIS fighters and vehicles, including a tank, armed technical vehicles, and transport vehicles seeking to facilitate the movement of ISIS fighters to the border area of our Iraqi partners. Food and water have been provided to the convoy.
The Coalition has communicated to the Russians, to deliver a message to the Syrian regime, that the Coalition will not condone ISIS fighters moving further east to the Iraqi border. The Coalition values human life and has offered suggestions on a course of action to save the women and children from any further suffering as a result of the Syrian regime’s agreement.
The Coalition and our Iraqi partners were not a party to the agreement between the Lebanese Hezbollah, the Syrian regime and ISIS to allow these experienced fighters to transit territory under the Syrian regime control to the Iraqi border. ISIS is a global threat; relocating terrorists from one place to another for someone else to deal with, is not a lasting solution.
In accordance with the law of armed conflict, the Coalition will continue take action against ISIS whenever and wherever we are able to without harming civilians.”
UPDATE August 31, 2017
Press Release – The Coalition was not a party to any agreement between the Lebanese Hezbollah, the Syrian regime and ISIS. Russian and pro-regime counter-ISIS words ring hollow when they cut deals with and allow terrorists to transit territory under their control.
ISIS is a global threat; relocating terrorists from one place to another for someone else to deal with, is not a lasting solution. This is just further evidence of why Coalition military action is necessary to defeat ISIS in Syria.
The Coalition has not struck the convoy. In accordance with the law of armed conflict, the Coalition cratered the road heading east between Hamaymah and Abul Kamal to prevent the further transport of ISIS fighters to the border area of our Iraqi partners and struck individual vehicles and fighters that were clearly identified as ISIS.
In accordance with the law of armed conflict, the Coalition will take action against ISIS whenever and wherever we are able to without harming civilians, according the Coalition’s press release.
UPDATE August 30, 16:50
According to the Associated Press, the U.S.-led Global Coalition against ISIS “Inherent Resolve” struck the route of the ISIS convoy heading from the Syrian-Lebanese border area of western Qalamoun to Deir ez-Zor. Air strikes destroyed the road and a small bridge, entrapping the militants. The Coalition still has not ruled out the possibility to hit the convoy itself.