Middle East

IS convoy stranded in Syria desert after US bombing

Convoy of IS fighters leaves Lebanon Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The US-led coalition says the militants are "experienced fighters"

The US-led coalition says it will keep blocking a convoy of evacuated Islamic State militants in Syria from reaching IS-held territory on the Iraq border.

The hundreds of fighters recently surrendered an enclave on Syria's border with Lebanon.

They agreed with Hezbollah and the Syrian government that they would leave with their families and head eastwards.

But the coalition says it and Iraq were not part of the deal and on Tuesday bombed the road ahead of the convoy.

The buses are now stranded in an area of desert under Syrian government control between the towns of Humayma and al-Sukhnah.

However reports say the Syrian army and Hezbollah are seeking a new route for the convoy and a monitoring group says dozens of people have already left in cars heading for the IS-held province of Deir al-Zour.

"The coalition will not condone Isis [IS] fighters moving further east to the Iraqi border," the coalition said in a statement.

"Relocating terrorists from one place to another, for someone else to deal with, is not a lasting solution," it added.

There are some 300 IS militants on board the convoy, described by the coalition as "experienced fighters".

Image copyright AFP/Getty
Image caption The convoy is stranded in the al-Sukhnah area, recently recaptured from IS control by the Syrian government

The coalition says it has not bombed them because about 300 women and children are also present, but it says a tank, armed vehicles and other vehicles facilitating the relocation have been targeted.

Food and water has been provided to the convoy, the statement says, and the coalition has also - via Russia - offered suggestions to Syria on possible ways of rescuing the women and children.

Meanwhile the Syrian army and Hezbollah were seeking a new route for the IS fighters and their families to reach IS territory near the Iraq border, Reuters news agency quoted a pro-government military source as saying.

And the UK based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said dozens of people had already left the stranded convoy in cars in a bid to reach Deir al-Zour by themselves.

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Media captionVideo shows the militants and their families preparing to leave the Lebanese town of Arsal

Lebanese, Syrian and Hezbollah forces agreed ceasefires with IS militants last week days after attacking the jihadists' final foothold in the Lebanon-Syria border area.

More than 300 militants and their families were allowed to leave for Albu Kamal, a town in the Syrian province of Deir al-Zour that is 6km (4 miles) from the Iraqi border.

After the deal was announced Lebanon's army chief, Gen Joseph Aoun, said he had wanted to recover the bodies of Lebanese soldiers captured in 2014 and not risk any more lives.

But Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi criticised it. "We fight the terrorists in Iraq. We do not send them to Syria," he said.

Meanwhile the US envoy to the coalition, Brett McGurk, said IS militants "should be killed on the battlefield, not bussed across Syria to the Iraqi border without Iraq's consent".

Iraqi forces backed by US-led coalition air strikes have been battling to oust IS fighters from the towns they control in northern Iraq.

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