On July 21, 2017, Lebanese Hezbollah fighters initiated an assault across the Qalamoun Mountains near Arsal in northern Lebanon’s Baalbek-Hermel governorate. Soon joined by the Syrian air force, the offensive was aimed at rooting out pockets of entrenched fighters affiliated with the former Syrian al-Qaeda branch, Jabhat al-Nusra, which was relabeled in 2016 as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS).
Just one week after the onset of the operation, Hezbollah declared victory over the militants who were stranded in the contested Jroud Arsal region. As an immediate result, the belligerent parties struck a deal, which was mediated and confirmed by Lebanon’s General Security Agency. The agreement would allow for the evacuation of adherents of the defeated Jabhat Fateh al-Sham group and the exchange of the bodies of dead fighters. Beyond the transfer of militant Syrians from Lebanon to Idlib Province via Aleppo, the temporary truce paved way for the gradual shuttling of up to 9,000 Syrian refugees back to Syria.
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