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Berri Confident in Lebanese Army’s Ability to Fight ISIS as Military Denies Working with Syria | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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In this 2016 photo, a Lebanese army first lieutenant looks through binoculars toward areas controlled by ISIS on the edge of Arsal, on the Syrian border, in northeast Lebanon. (AP)

Lebanese Speaker Nabih Berri voiced on Friday his confidence in the ability of the army in “completing the battle to cleanse the outskirts of Arsal from terrorism, especially since the remaining areas are still under ISIS control.”

He told reporters while visiting Tehran: “Our army is among the best in the region and it has demonstrated high fighting competence in its battle against terror.”

The timing of this battle lies however in the hands of the military, which knows when to launch it, he added.

The “victory” against the al-Nusra Front extremists in the northeastern region of Arsal is not new to the resistance group “Hezbollah,” he said, “but it had struck a victory against the Israeli enemy in July 2006.”

“The development is a major turning point on the national level that is equal and even expands on the 2006 victory,” Berri declared.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Yaacoub al-Sarraf urged against “getting embroiled into military and security analyses and speculation that are based on inaccurate information.”

He stressed that the military has the sole authority in determining the time and place of any duty that is tasked to it.

On Saturday, a military source told Reuters that the army will not coordinate with the Syrian regime forces to fight ISIS in Arsal, rejecting a local media report of direct military cooperation between the two.

The source said the army had the military capability to confront and defeat the terrorist group without any regional or international support.

The presence of ISIS and Nusra militants in pockets on Lebanon’s border is the biggest military spillover into the country from Syria’s civil war.

An offensive launched last month by “Hezbollah” forced Nusra extremists to leave for a rebel-held area in northwest Syria under an evacuation deal. The Lebanese army did not take part in that offensive, but has been widely expected to lead an attack against the ISIS pocket.

On Friday “Hezbollah” leader Hassan Nasrallah said an assault on ISIS in the border zone would begin in a few days.

He said the Lebanese army would attack ISIS from the Lebanese side of the border, while “Hezbollah” and the Syrian regime forces would simultaneously attack from the Syrian side.

On Saturday, Lebanese newspaper al-Joumhouria reported from sources that direct military coordination had occurred between the Syrian forces and Lebanese army regarding the upcoming offensive against ISIS.

The military source said the Lebanese army had been attacking ISIS for some time, by preventing it spreading further and cutting supply routes.