Convoy of hundreds of Isil fighters still stranded in Syrian desert standoff

Convoy of hundreds of Isil fighters still stranded in Syrian desert standoffA convoy of evacuated Islamic State fighters is in a stand-off in the desert Syria, with the US threatening more air strikes if they continue to their destination near the Iraqi border. Lebanon's Hizbollah movement, which agreed the deal with Isil, today accused US-led forces of stranding the buses carrying hundreds of fighters and civilians headed for jihadist-held territory in eastern Syria. It was reported that some of the ambulances carrying wounded fighters, who had been allowed to travel from the Lebanon-Syria border to Deir Ezzor province, were allowed in but the rest remain stuck in government-held territory.  On Wednesday and Thursday, the US-led coalition pounded the road to Deir Ezzor with air strikes to prevent the convoy reaching the Isil-held town of Albukamal on the Iraqi border.  Lebanese army soldiers with the 6th Brigade standing on armoured vehicles on a hill they recently took from the Islamic State (IS) group in Jurud Ras Baalbeck on the Syrian-Lebanese border on August 28, 2017. Credit: AFP Hizbollah, which has defended the deal to remove Isil fighters from the Lebanese frontier, said US-led forces had effectively stranded most of the convoy's 17 buses. "They are also preventing anyone from reaching them even to provide humanitarian assistance to families, the sick and wounded and the elderly," the Hezbollah statement said. The convoy left the Lebanon-Syria border region on Monday, but Hizbollah said six of the buses remained in Syrian government-held territory. The deal, brokered by Hizbollah with the support of its Syrian regime ally after a week-long offensive against IS, has been fiercely criticised by US-led forces and the Iraqi government. The international coalition fighting Isil has said it is unacceptable for jihadists to be transported to the border with Iraq, where pro-government forces this week ousted the extremist group from the northern city of Tal Afar. In a statement overnight, the coalition said it had sent a message to Damascus through Syria's ally Russia to say that "the Coalition will not condone IS 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," it added, without providing further details. The coalition said it would not strike the convoy, but acknowledged hitting Isil fighters and vehicles "seeking to facilitate the movement of Isil fighters to the border area of our Iraqi partners." Hizbollah accused US forces of hypocrisy, saying they had previously allowed Isil fighters to flee territories in Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has described the deal as "unacceptable" and an "insult to the Iraqi people". In Lebanon some criticised it for allowing fighters suspected of killing Lebanese citizens to escape on "air-conditioned buses." Deir Ezzor in Syria's east is one of the jihadists' last remaining strongholds, where they hold most of the province and parts of its capital of the same name.

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