Al-Akhbar newspaper , which is closely linked to Hezbollah and the Syrian regime reported Monday that Abou Malek al-Talli, the emir of al-Qaida-affiliate al-Nusra Front in Syria’s Qalamoun region, fled the fierce battles with Hezbollah and Syrian regime forces into the northeastern border town of Arsal.
In its evening bulletin, Hezbollah’s mouthpiece Al-Manar showed a special unit from Hezbollah breaking into a cave in the Qalamoun hills that, according to the TV station, was once a hideout used by al-Talli.
Al-Talli entered Arsal on Sunday accompanied by two of the group’s prominent leaders, sources told Al-Akhbar
The sources identified one of the leaders as “Abou Souhaib” who ran the negotiations regarding the servicemen held hostage by the group with the Lebanese state.
Al-Nusra and the Islamic State group briefly overran Arsal last August, and are still holding 25 soldiers and policemen hostage. Four have been executed so far, and the jihadists have threatened to kill the remaining hostages unless there is a deal to free Islamist prisoners in Lebanon.
Security sources told al-Akhbar that the Army Intelligence obtained information that helped it in locating the hideout of one of al-Nusra leaders in Arsal. Such information was denied by the group .
Hezbollah backed by Syrian troops succeeded in seizing swath of territory under the control of al-Nusra Front in Qalamoun, along the Lebanese-Syrian border.
Last week,Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah claimed that the party managed to “liberate dozens of square kilometers” of land in al-Qalamoun, pushing back al-Nusra Front and its allies.
He vowed that Hezbollah will next turn its sights on the IS group which has seized chunks of Syria and Iraq.
Hezbollah insists it is fighting in Syria to prevent extremist groups from entering Lebanon.
The total area of the Qalamoun being contested is about 1,000 square kilometers — of which 340 square kilometers (131 square miles) lie in Lebanon.
Sheikh Mustafa al-Hujeiri , the mediator between the families of the kidnapped servicemen and the kidnappers denied Monday media reports alleging that al-Talli had sought refuge at his residence in the northeastern border town of Arsal after fleeing a Hezbollah offensive in the outskirts.
“Abou Malek al-Talli took part in the meeting with the family of the (captive) soldier George Khoury. He confirmed that he is present in the outskirts and will not enter Arsal or allow a battle in it,” LBCI television quoted Hujeiri as saying.
“Al-Talli will not close the door of negotiations in the case of the captive servicemen and he hopes a solution will be reached as soon as possible,” Hujeiri added.
Khoury’s family visited him in Arsal’s outskirts after it was “invited” by al-Nusra Front, state-run National News Agency reported.
The family “was reassured about his health and it will issue a statement in this regard,” NNA added.