BEIRUT (AP) — Hezbollah gunmen repelled an attack Tuesday by Islamic State group fighters in an area on the Lebanon-Syria border as a major battle between the two groups looms in the rugged mountainous region, the Lebanese group's TV station reported.
Al-Manar TV said the IS attack targeted several Hezbollah positions outside the northeastern Lebanese border village of Ras Baalbek. The enduing battle left several IS fighters dead or wounded and three vehicles, including a bulldozer, destroyed, the channel said. It did not say whether there were casualties among Hezbollah fighters.
Hezbollah has been on the offensive in Syria's Qalamoun mountains for weeks and has captured territory from al-Qaida's branch in Syria, the Nusra Front. With the Nusra Front almost defeated in the area, a major battle is expected between Hezbollah and IS.
Hezbollah is deeply involved in Syria's civil war fighting alongside President Bashar Assad's forces. The group cites the fear that militants will sweep through Shiite and Christian villages in diverse Lebanon as the reason for its involvement in Syria.
The total area of the Qalamoun mountains that was being contested is about 1,000 square kilometers (386 square miles) — of which 340 square kilometers (131 square miles) lie in Lebanon and are under the control of IS militants and the Nusra Front, according to Hezbollah.
On Monday, Al-Manar said that Hezbollah fighters and Syrian troops have so far captured half the area.