Lebanese troops launched an offensive against the Islamic State (IS) group Saturday close to the Syrian border where the extremists have been active for several years.
The Lebanese army has initially sought to keep out of the conflict, but has been forced to take action since extremists of IS and then al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front assaulted the border town of Arsal in 2014 and abducted 30 soldiers and police.
“In the name of Lebanon, in the name of kidnapped Lebanese soldiers, in the name of martyrs of the army, I announce that operation ‘Dawn of Jurud’ has started,” army chief General Joseph Aoun said Saturday.
He was referring to two mountainous border areas—Jurud Ras Baalbek and Jurud al-Qaa—where IS has been active.
“The army is confronting the ISIS terrorists to chase them out and recover territory,” army spokesman General Ali Kanso said, adding that the army believed there were around 600 IS fighters in the two areas, controlling some 120 square kilometers (46 square miles) of territory.
Hezbollah said it had launched a simultaneous operation against the extremists from the Syrian side of the border.
Last month, Hezbollah carried out a six-day offensive against IS and al-Qaeda’s former affiliate in the Jurud Arsal district further south, which ended with a ceasefire.
On Sunday, Lebanese soldiers renewed fire on IS group positions on the country's eastern border with Syria after capturing a third of the territory held by jihadists in the area.
The Lebanese army also suffered its first casualties, when an armored vehicle hit a landmine, killing three of its occupants.
Lebanese military spokesman Col. Fadi Boueid said the blast that killed the three soldiers also critically wounded a fourth, and that troops were able to destroy a vehicle and a motorcycle driven by IS suicide attackers before they could hit their targets.
Boueid added that 15 militants were killed on Sunday as a result of fighting and bombardment.
Lebanon's battle against IS comes as the jihadist group faces assaults in both neighboring Syria and Iraq, where the government early Sunday announced an offensive on the group's bastion of Tal Afar.
Joining the fray once again was Hezbollah, which said Saturday it had launched a simultaneous operation against IS from the Syrian side of the border, where the group's fighters are battling alongside President Bashar al-Assad's army against rebels.
Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV also reported that Syrian warplanes carried out their most intense airstrikes Sunday since the operations against the extremists began.
AP and AFP contributed to this story.