September 6, 2017 / 9:07 AM / 2 years ago

Lebanon identifies soldiers killed in Islamic State captivity

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon has identified the bodies of 10 of its soldiers found along the Syrian border in a zone taken back from Islamic State last week, state news agency NNA said on Wednesday.

An offensive against the enclave ended with the evacuation of Islamic State militants and their families to eastern Syria under a Hezbollah-brokered deal.

Syria’s government and Lebanon’s Hezbollah allowed a convoy of about 300 lightly armed fighters and 300 relatives to evacuate, surrendering their border enclave.

As part of the agreement, IS militants identified where they had buried the soldiers, Lebanon’s army chief said.

DNA tests confirmed that all 10 bodies found in the mountainous border region were Lebanese soldiers, security sources and local media said on Wednesday.

Islamic State had held territory along the border for years, and took Lebanese troops captive in 2014 when they briefly overran the town of Arsal with other militants, one of the worst spillovers of the Syrian conflict into Lebanon.

Lebanese Justice Minister Salim Jrayssati said a military court would look into whether any civil or military authorities played a role in their capture. President Michel Aoun called for an investigation last week.

At a conference on Wednesday, the families of the soldiers demanded an inquiry to punish anyone who led to the deaths during the fighting and negotiations since 2014.

For three years, they had protested in the streets and met with many government officials to find out the fate of their relatives.

“There is immense and deep sadness in our hearts. But in our minds, there is pride and dignity,” Hussein Youssef, the father of a soldier, said at the government headquarters in Beirut.

Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri declared Friday a national day of mourning after meeting with the families.

“They were martyred defending this country,” said Nizam Mougheit, whose brother died in Islamic State captivity. “Anyone who had a hand in their martyrdom should be held accountable, whoever it is.”

Reporting by Sarah Dadouch and Reuters TV; Editing by Jon Boyle and and Robin Pomeroy

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