U.S.-backed SDF to let Syrian Islamic State fighters leave Raqqa

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AIN ISSA, Syria/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syrian Islamic State fighters are set to abandon Raqqa in a withdrawal agreed with U.S.-backed Syrian militias that have them surrounded, a militia spokesman said on Saturday, as the jihadists’ defeat in their former Syrian capital edged closer.

Officials gave conflicting accounts on whether foreign fighters would also be leaving the city, where the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been battling to defeat Islamic State since June.

SDF spokesman Talal Silo said the foreign fighters would be left behind “to surrender or die”, without saying when the evacuation of Syrian fighters would take place.

But Omar Alloush, a member of Raqqa’s Civil Council, said the evacuation would include foreign fighters. He said it would take place overnight into Sunday. The jihadists would be taking some 400 civilians with them as human shields, he said.

The final defeat of IS at Raqqa would be a milestone in efforts to roll back the theocratic “caliphate” the group declared in 2014 in Syria and Iraq, where earlier this year it was driven from the city of Mosul.

IS used Raqqa as a base to plan attacks against the West.

The Kurdish YPG militia, which dominates the SDF, told Reuters earlier on Saturday that Islamic State was on the verge of defeat in Raqqa, and the city may finally be cleared of the jihadists on Saturday or Sunday.

The U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State said a convoy was due to leave Raqqa on Saturday, in an arrangement agreed by local parties. It described the arrangement as “a civilian evacuation” and said it would not condone any arrangement that allowed “terrorists to escape Raqqa without facing justice”.

Coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon said the coalition’s stance was that IS fighters must surrender unconditionally, but added that he could not comment on who would be in the convoy. He said difficult fighting was expected in the days ahead.

The coalition statement said the arrangement brokered by the Raqqa Civil Council and local Arab tribal elders on Oct. 12 was “designed to minimise civilian casualties and purportedly excludes foreign Daesh terrorists”.

The coalition believed the arrangement would “save innocent lives and allow Syrian Democratic Forces and the coalition to focus on defeating Daesh terrorists in Raqqa with less risk of civilian casualties”, it said.

Children play inside a truck at a refugee camp for people displaced because of fightings between the Syrian Democratic Forces and Islamic State militants in Ain Issa, Syria October 14, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

Tribal leaders from Raqqa said the SDF had agreed to allow safe passage out of the city for Syrian Islamic State fighters still inside, and they were organising a “mechanism” for them to leave.

Its statement made no mention of the fate of Islamic State’s foreign jihadists, but said the remaining fighters in the city were only “a small number besieged in one or more positions in the city, who have no choice but surrender or death”.

Alloush earlier told Reuters that the IS fighters would go to remaining territory held by the group in Syria.

BUSES ARRIVE

Negotiated withdrawals of combatants facing defeat have become a common feature of the six-year-long Syrian war.

An activist group that reports on Raqqa, Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, said on its Facebook page that dozens of buses had entered Raqqa city overnight Friday from the countryside to the north.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based organisation that reports on the war, said Syrian Islamic State fighters and their families had already left the city, and buses had arrived to evacuate remaining foreign fighters and their families.

The Syrian army, which is supported by Iran-backed militias and the Russian air force, declared another significant victory over Islamic State on Saturday, saying it had captured the town of al-Mayadin in Deir al-Zor province.

The eastern province is Islamic State’s last major foothold in Syria, and it is under attack there from the SDF on one side and Syrian government forces supported by Iran-backed militias and Russian air strikes on the other.

Islamic State fighters had previously agreed to an evacuation last August, from an area on the Syrian-Lebanese border.

But as their convoy moved towards Islamic State-held territory in eastern Syria, coalition planes blocked its route by cratering roads, destroying bridges and attacking nearby Islamic State vehicles.

Reporting by Lisa Barrington and Tom Perry in Beirut; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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Birmingham Islamic faith school guilty of sex discrimination

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Southall Black Sisters

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Anti-segregation protestors gathered outside the court at an earlier hearing

An Islamic faith school’s policy of segregating boys and girls is unlawful sex discrimination, a court has ruled.

The case was heard at the Court of Appeal as Ofsted challenged a High Court ruling clearing the Al-Hijrah school in Birmingham of discrimination.

Ofsted’s lawyers argued the segregation left girls “unprepared for life in modern Britain”.

Appeal judges ruled the school was discriminating against its pupils contrary to the Equality Act.

However, the court did not accept the argument the school’s policy had disadvantaged girls more than boys.

The appeal judges also made it clear the government and Ofsted had failed to identify the problem earlier and other schools operating similarly should be given time “to put their houses in order”.

About 20 schools – Islamic, Jewish and Christian – are thought to have similar segregation policies.

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From Year Five boys and girls are completely separated for lessons, breaks, trips and clubs

The three appeal judges heard boys and girls, aged four to 16, attend the Birmingham City Council-maintained Al-Hijrah school, in Bordesley Green.

But from Year Five, boys and girls are completely separated for lessons, breaks, school trips and school clubs.

In 2016, Ofsted ruled the school was inadequate and it was put in special measures, saying its policy of separating the sexes was discrimination under the 2010 Equality Act.

In November, High Court judge Mr Justice Jay overruled the inspectors, saying that they had taken an “erroneous” view on an issue “of considerable public importance”.

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Ofsted

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Ofsted’s Amanda Spielman said the policy failed to prepare pupils for life in modern Britain

Speaking after the Court of Appeal ruling Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools, said educational institutions should never treat pupils less favourably because of their sex.

“The school is teaching boys and girls entirely separately, making them walk down separate corridors, and keeping them apart at all times,” she said.

“This is discrimination and is wrong. It places these boys and girls at a disadvantage for life beyond the classroom and the workplace, and fails to prepare them for life in modern Britain,” she said.

In the ruling, the appeal judges said Ofsted had made it clear if the appeal succeeded, “it will apply a consistent approach to all similarly organised schools”.

Given their failure to identify the problem earlier, the education secretary and Ofsted had “de facto sanctioned and accepted a state of affairs which is unlawful” and should give the affected schools time to “put their houses in order”, the judges said.

The ruling means state schools which segregate pupils risk being given a lower rating by Ofsted. It only applies to mixed-sex schools.

During the appeal hearing, Peter Oldham QC, speaking for Al-Hijrah’s interim executive board, said the boys and girls at the school were treated entirely equally while segregated.

He said Ofsted did not claim separation was discrimination until 2016 and its actions were “the antithesis of proper public decision-making”.

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PA

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Birmingham City Council said the issue was about schools being inspected against unclear policy and guidelines

Birmingham City Council said it took the High Court action it had because it felt Al-Hijrah school had been held to a different standard than other schools with similar arrangements, which had not been downgraded by Ofsted as a consequence.

Colin Diamond, corporate director of children and young people at the Labour-run council, said the case had always been about fairness and consistency in the inspection process.

“We would therefore highlight comments made in this judgement about the secretary of state’s and Ofsted’s ‘failure to identify the problem’,” he said.

He added the council had a strong history of encouraging all schools to practise equality but if it was national policy that schools with gender separation were discriminating against pupils then local authorities and the schools needed to be told so they knew the standards they were being inspected against.

Matt Bennett, shadow cabinet member for children and family services, said the verdict did not reflect well on Al-Hijrah, the council, Ofsted or the DfE.

“It is now clear that practices breaching the Equality Act 2010 have been allowed to continue at this school, and others across the country. Action is now required at local and national level,” he said.

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Russia says Islamic State operates near U.S base in Syria unhindered

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MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia accused the United States on Wednesday of allowing Islamic State to operate “under its nose” in Syria, saying Washington was letting the militant group move about freely in an area abutting a U.S. military base.

The allegations, made by Russia’s Defence Ministry, centre on a U.S. military base at Tanf, a strategic Syrian highway border crossing with Iraq in the south of the country.

Russia says the U.S. base is illegal and that it and the area around it have become “a black hole” where militants operate unhindered.

The United States says the Tanf facility is a temporary base used to train partner forces to fight against Islamic State. Pentagon spokesman Colonel Robert Manning on Tuesday said Washington remained committed to killing off Islamic State and denying it safe havens and the ability to carry out strikes.

But Major-General Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the Russian Defence Ministry, said Moscow wanted to know how around 300 Islamic State militants in pickup trucks had passed through the U.S.-controlled area and tried to block the highway between Damascus and Deir al-Zor used to supply Syrian forces.

He said the U.S. had not yet given an explanation.

“We suggest the American side also explain about another incidence of their ‘selective blindness’ towards militants operating under their nose,” Konashenkov said in a statement.

He said about 600 militants based in a refugee camp in the U.S. controlled area had driven en masse to a former customs post called Tafas on the Syrian-Jordanian border earlier this month and seized food and medical supplies meant for locals.

“You don’t need to be an expert to now forecast an attempt to rupture the peace agreement in the southern de-escalation zone,” said Konashenkov.

“We issue a warning. All responsibility for sabotaging the peace process will lay exclusively with the American side.”

Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Dmitry Solovyov

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U.S.-led coalition says still monitoring Islamic State convoy in Syria

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BEIRUT (Reuters) – A convoy of Islamic State fighters and their families being evacuated into jihadist territory in east Syria remained in government-held areas of Syria on Friday, U.S.-led forces said.

“It has not managed to link up with any other ISIS elements in eastern Syria,” Colonel Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State said.

There are about 300 fighters and about 300 civilians in the convoy, which the Syrian army and Lebanon’s Hezbollah group gave safe passage to after the jihadists surrendered their enclave on Syria’s border with Lebanon.

But the coalition against Islamic State has used air strikes to block the convoy from crossing into the group’s main territory straddling Syria’s eastern border with Iraq.

The Islamic State fighters in the border pocket accepted a truce and evacuation deal after simultaneous but separate offensives by the Lebanese army on one front and the Syrian army and Hezbollah on the other.

It angered both the coalition, which does not want the fighters bussed to a battlefront in which it is active, and Iraq, which is fighting Islamic State across the border.

“We are continuing to monitor that convoy and will continue to disrupt its movement east to link up with any other ISIS element and we will continue to strike any other ISIS elements that try to move towards it,” Dillon said.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gave prayers on Friday for Islam’s Eid al-Adha festival in the town of Qara, near the enclave surrendered on Monday by the Islamic State fighters.

FILE PHOTO:A convoy of Islamic State fighters and their families begin to depart from the Lebanon-Syria border zone in Qalamoun, Syria August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki/File Photo

Confined to Damascus for long periods in the early part of Syria’s six-year civil war, Assad has grown more confident in travelling around government-held areas as the army and its allies have won a series of victories.

Assad was shown on state television standing and kneeling on a green carpet in a packed mosque alongside Syrian religious leaders as he followed the imam giving prayers.

The departure of Islamic State and other groups from the Western Qalamoun district means the border with Lebanon is Syria’s first to be controlled entirely by its army since early in the conflict.

Qara is only a few miles from the mountains delineating the frontier with Lebanon, in which Islamic State and other militant groups held territory until August.

Part of an agreed exchange under the truce went ahead on Thursday as wounded Islamic State fighters were swapped for the bodies of pro-government forces. But the fate of the main part of the convoy is uncertain.

“It was moving this morning and then they had stopped … I don’t know if they stopped for a break or were trying to figure out what to do,” Dillon said.

The frontline between Syrian government forces and Islamic State in eastern Syria is active, as the army, aided by Russian jets and Iran-backed Shi‘ite militias, presses an offensive to relieve its besieged enclave at Deir al-Zor.

On Friday, a Syrian military source said the army and its allies had made an advance against Islamic State in that area and had also taken several villages in a jihadist enclave in central Syria.

Reporting by Angus McDowall; Editing by Alison Williams

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Islamic State convoy in Syria appears to have turned back, U.S.-led coalition says

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BEIRUT (Reuters) – A convoy of Islamic State fighters appears to have turned back after U.S.-led airstrikes thwarted its attempt to reach territory held by the militant group in eastern Syria, the head of U.S.-led forces fighting Islamic State said on Thursday.

More than 300 lightly armed IS fighters and about 300 family members were evacuated from Syria’s western border with Lebanon under a ceasefire agreement involving the ultra-hardline group, the Syrian army and the Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah.

On Thursday they sought to move into IS-held territory from a new location after U.S.-led strikes on Wednesday stopped them joining forces with their jihadist comrades, a commander in the pro-Syrian government military alliance said.

(For graphic on IS convoy to move, click tmsnrt.rs/2wlya8V)

However, U.S. Army Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, the commander of U.S.-led forces fighting Islamic State, told a Pentagon briefing that the convoy had turned back into Syrian government territory.

“When I walked into this conference about an hour ago, the buses were on the move. They had turned and had driven back into regime-held areas,” he told reporters via a video teleconference from Baghdad.

“We haven’t struck the convoy. But we have struck every ISIS fighter and/or vehicle that has tried to approach that convoy. And we’ll continue to do that,” he said.

The coalition opposes experienced combatants being moved to a battle zone in which it is active, and used warplanes on Wednesday to halt the convoy by damaging the road ahead. It also struck fighters on their way to meet the convoy.

A commander in the pro-Syrian government military alliance said the convoy had headed north towards the town of Sukhna on Thursday after being halted in the desert and would try to reach Deir al-Zor province, close to the border with Iraq.

Two sources familiar with U.S. policy on Syria said the airstrikes did not signal a more aggressive military approach, and were intended to prevent the IS fighters in the convoy reinforcing their comrades in Deir al-Zor.

But the standoff shows the tangled nature of a war theatre divided into several overlapping conflicts, and where the engagement of local, regional and global powers is further complicated by a mosaic of alliances and enmities.

Six years into Syria’s civil war, in which Islamic State has seized swathes of land, the jihadist group is on the retreat across the region, losing ground to an array of foes.

In Syria, the government of President Bashar al-Assad has rapidly gained ground this year as the army advanced eastwards, backed by Russia and allied Iran-backed militia including Hezbollah, towards its besieged enclave in Deir al-Zor.

But in the north, the United States — which opposes Assad, Iran and Hezbollah — has led a coalition backing Kurdish and Arab militias as they assault Islamic State’s former Syrian capital of Raqqa.

NASRALLAH VISITED DAMASCUS

A convoy of Islamic State fighters and their families begin to depart from the Lebanon-Syria border zone in Qalamoun, Syria August 28, 2017.Omar Sanadiki

Hezbollah-affiliated media have reported that the Syrian town of Al-Bukamal, close to the border with Iraq, is the final destination for the convoy.

Hezbollah has been one of Assad’s closest allies in the war and it trumpeted the departure of Islamic State, after that of two other militant groups, from the Lebanon border as a “day of liberation”.

On Thursday, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said Assad had only reluctantly agreed to the evacuation after Nasrallah visited Damascus to request it, a rare public acknowledgement that he had travelled outside Lebanon.

Iraq’s Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, said it was “unacceptable” to ferry more jihadist fighters from another battlefront in Syria to the edge of Iraqi territory, prompting a statement from Hezbollah defending the move.

Iraq has formed a dedicated intelligence operations room to monitor and track the jihadists, a senior Interior Ministry official told state media, saying the convoy included “elite commanders” of Islamic State.

After it was blocked from moving eastwards on Wednesday, the convoy headed north within government territory to try to move into Islamic State land from a new location, the commander in the pro-Assad alliance said.

The commander added that the convoy would head on again after an exchange of dead combatants and prisoners. The bodies of an Iranian killed in the fighting and two other dead fighters were to be swapped for 25 wounded IS fighters travelling with the convoy, the commander said.

In Tehran, the country’s Revolutionary Guards said on their website that the dead Iranian, whom they identified as Mohsen Hojaji, would be returned at an unspecified date for a funeral and burial.

LIFE ON BUSES “GETTING KIND OF HARD”

The fighters retained light weapons but left heavier arms in their enclave after being evacuated from western Lebanon following heavy fighting there.

“I would imagine life getting kind of hard on those buses after two and a half days or more, largely cooped up in those buses driving around in the desert,” Townsend said.

Such deals have increasingly been used by the Syrian army and its allies to press besieged rebels to surrender their enclaves and to relocate to insurgent-held territory elsewhere, but this is the first such deal involving Islamic State.

In the process, Islamic State revealed the fate of nine Lebanese soldiers it took captive in its border enclave in 2014, as well as surrendering a Hezbollah prisoner.

An official in the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, which is helping with the exchange, has entered Islamic State territory to accompany the prisoner back to the government-held area, the commander in the pro-Assad military alliance said.

Hezbollah-aligned al Akhbar newspaper in Lebanon reported on Thursday that some IS leaders in eastern Syria did not want members of the group who had surrendered territory to be welcomed back into their self-declared caliphate.

Reporting by Leila Bassam and Sarah Dadouch in Beirut, Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad, Idrees Ali, David Alexander and John Walcott in Washington, and Dubai Newsroom, Writing by Angus McDowall, Editing by Timothy Heritage

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Islamic State evacuation convoy will cross to Deir al-Zor – alliance commander

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BEIRUT (Reuters) – An Islamic State evacuation convoy in eastern Syria that was blocked by U.S.-led air strikes will head from government-held Sukhna towards the IS-held Deir al-Zor region, a commander in the pro-Syrian government military alliance said on Thursday.

Hezbollah and the Syrian army arranged the evacuation as part of a ceasefire with Islamic State in an enclave on the Lebanon-Syria border after an offensive last week.

But U.S.-led coalition forces blocked the convoy from moving into Islamic State-held territory on Wednesday by striking the road ahead and some of their comrades travelling to meet them.

The ceasefire deal has been criticised by the coalition and by Iraq, whose army is also fighting Islamic State in areas next to the eastern Syria region to which the convoy was headed.

The coalition might strike again, the coalition spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon said by phone on Thursday.

“We will continue to monitor the convoys in real time … and take advantage of known ISIS (fighters) in open areas away from civilians and strike them,” he said.

Dillon said on Wednesday the coalition was “not bound by these agreements,” referring to the ceasefire deal and making clear it was being used to move fighters from one location to another “to fight yet again”.

The commander in the pro-Syrian government military alliance said the location for the convoy to move into IS-held territory had been changed from Humeima in the southeast to Sukhna, further north, and that part of the deal was already moving forward.

He said an exchange had begun in the desert, under which the bodies of an Iranian killed in the fighting and two other dead fighters would be swapped for 25 wounded IS fighters.

Iran backs Syrian government forces in the civil war that began in Syria in 2011. In Tehran, the country’s Revolutionary Guards said on its website that the dead Iranian had been identified as Mohsen Hojaji and that a funeral procession would be held for him in the Iranian capital on Saturday.

The evacuation deal allowed for a convoy of 600 individuals, of whom Hizbollah say almost half are civilians, to be transferred to IS-held territory in eastern Syria.

The deal also involved Islamic State revealing the fate of nine Lebanese soldiers it took captive in its border enclave in 2014, as well as surrendering a Hezbollah prisoner.

An official in the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, which is helping with the exchange, has entered Islamic State territory to accompany the prisoner back to the government-held area, the commander in the pro-Assad military alliance said.

The commander added that the delay in the convoy moving after it reached the original exchange point on Tuesday was caused by the coalition strike on Wednesday and by a dispute between Islamic State commanders.

Hezbollah-aligned al Akhbar newspaper in Lebanon reported on Thursday that some IS leaders in eastern Syria did not want members of the group who had surrendered territory to be welcomed back into their self-declared caliphate.

Reporting by Leila Bassam and Sarah Dadouch in Beirut and by Dubai Newsroom, Writing by Angus McDowall, Editing by Alison Williams and Timothy Heritage

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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U.S.-led jets strike in Syria to block Islamic State evacuation deal

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BEIRUT (Reuters) – U.S.-led warplanes on Wednesday blocked a convoy of Islamic State fighters and their families from reaching territory the group holds in eastern Syria and struck some of their comrades travelling to meet them, a coalition spokesman said.

The strikes were aimed at stopping an evacuation deal for Islamic State fighters to leave their enclave on the Lebanon-Syria border for areas they hold in eastern Syria, arranged by the Lebanese Hezbollah group and the Syrian army.

It was part of a ceasefire agreed after offensives last week by the Lebanese army on one front, and the Syrian army and Hezbollah on another, that pushed Islamic State back into a small part of its enclave straddling the frontier.

The deal has been criticised by the coalition and by Iraq, whose army is also fighting Islamic State in areas contiguous with the eastern Syria region to which the convoy was headed.

The convoy, carrying 308 militants and 331 civilians according to Hezbollah, is now effectively stranded, unable to move forward into Islamic State territory.

It shows how easily such evacuations to other areas, which the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has increasingly used to push rebel pockets to surrender, can be derailed in a conflict with many sides.

A commander in the military alliance supporting Assad said the coalition had contacted the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, which is accompanying the convoy and warned that if it entered Islamic State territory, it might attack.

Islamic State is on the back foot in both Syria and Iraq, losing swathes of its territory and its most important towns and cities after taking advantage of chaos including the six-year civil war in Syria to win ground.

In Syria, the U.S.-led coalition is backing an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias in the north which are assaulting the jihadist group’s former de facto capital of Raqqa.

The Russian-backed Syrian army and allied Shi’ite militia from Iraq and Lebanon including Hezbollah have this year seized most of the central desert from the group, and are advancing eastwards to relieve the army’s besieged enclave in Deir al-Zor.

The coalition strikes to block the convoy moving into Islamic State territory took place east of Humeima, near the edge of land held by the Syrian government, coalition spokesman Ryan Dillon told Reuters.

“We did crater the road and destroyed a small bridge to prevent this convoy from moving further east,” Dillon told Reuters by phone.

He later said the coalition had struck vehicles containing Islamic State fighters that were heading to that area from deeper inside the territory they control to the east.

He did not know if the evacuation convoy, which contains buses of fighters and their family members, as well as ambulances carrying wounded fighters, was now in Islamic State or Syrian government territory.

MILITARY AID

On Tuesday morning a Hezbollah-run military media unit reported the convoy had reached an exchange point into Islamic State territory.

The evacuation deal also involved Islamic State revealing the fate of nine Lebanese soldiers it took captive in its border enclave in 2014, and surrendering Hezbollah and Syrian army prisoners and bodies in east Syria.

The commander in the pro-Assad military alliance said it was considering an alternative location for the convoy to cross into Islamic State territory.

“Now things are moving to change the place from Humeima and head north towards Sukhna,” the commander said.

“We’re not bound by these agreements,” Dillon said, apparently referring to the ceasefire deal. “They’re clearly fighters and they’re moving to another location to fight yet again.

“In accordance with the law of armed conflict … we will strike them if we are able to do so,” he said, adding that direct strikes on the convoy would only take place if the militants could be separated from civilians.

Brett McGurk, the U.S. envoy to the coalition, criticised the evacuation deal in a statement early on Wednesday before the strikes were reported, saying: “Relocating terrorists from one place to another for someone else to deal with is not a lasting solution”.

Separately, the leader of Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, defended the Lebanese group’s involvement in the evacuation deal in a statement responding to criticism of the move from Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Abadi said on Tuesday: “Transporting this number of terrorists from long distance to eastern Syria adjacent to Iraqi borders is unacceptable”.

Nasrallah said it was a Hezbollah deal agreed upon by the Syrian leadership, that the fighters were few in number, and were being moved from one front Hezbollah was fighting in to another.

Lebanon is a major recipient of U.S. and British military aid. It says its offensive against Islamic State last week was separate to the simultaneous one made against the same pocket from inside Syria by the Syrian army and Hezbollah, regarded by the U.S. and Britain as a terrorist group.

On Wednesday the Lebanese army said its head General Joseph Aoun had been phoned by the commander of U.S. Central Command Joseph Votel congratulating him on the offensive and pledging to continue arming Lebanon’s army.

Reporting by Sarah Dadouch, Angus McDowall, Laila Bassam and John Davison in Beirut, Ahmed Tolba in Cairo and Ahmed Rashid in Baghdad; Editing by Alison Williams and Jonathan Oatis

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Islamic State claims attack on house of Afghan lawmaker

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JALALABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) – Militant group Islamic State on Wednesday claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on the home of a powerful member of parliament in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad that killed two security guards and both attackers.

The assault targeted the house of Zahir Qadir, deputy speaker of parliament and a member of a prominent political family long opposed to both the Taliban and Islamic State, which is based largely in eastern Nangarhar province.

Officials said the guards were killed when one attacker detonated a suicide vest. The other attacker was shot dead immediately.

In a statement on its Amaq news agency, Islamic State said two of its fighters had attacked the house.

Qadir achieved notoriety two years ago when militia fighters loyal to him beheaded four Islamic State militants and displayed their severed heads on the side of a road in Nangarhar in retaliation for the beheading of four militia members.

Reporting by Rafiq Sheza and Ahmad Sultan and Omar Fahmy in CAIRO; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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Islamic State ceasefire deal convoy reaches east Syria – Hezbollah-run media

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BEIRUT (Reuters) – A convoy of Islamic State fighters and their families reached an exchange point in eastern Syria on Tuesday, a Hezbollah military media unit said, where they will be transferred into IS-held territory under a ceasefire deal.

The convoy of buses and ambulances left the Lebanon-Syria border region on Monday under Syrian military escort after a ceasefire took effect on Sunday.

The deal ended a week-long offensive with the Lebanese army on one front and Hezbollah with the Syrian army on the other against Islamic State’s mountainous enclave straddling the Lebanon-Syria border.

Reporting by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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