Syrian army, Hezbollah attack Islamic State near Lebanon border

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Syrian army and Hezbollah attacked a pocket of territory occupied by Islamic State straddling the border with Lebanon from the Syrian side, seizing a number of hilltops on Friday, a Hezbollah military media unit said. Hezbollah fighters and Syrian soldiers were "tightening the noose" on Islamic State in the barren frontier region, the military media unit run by Hezbollah, a key Damascus ally, said. Syrian state-owned Ikhbariyah TV said the Syrian army closed in on the militants on Syria's side of the frontier and seized several hills. The Lebanese army has been gearing up to launch an assault against the enclave from inside Lebanon and is expected to start its offensive soon. Lebanese military sources have said the army would fight Islamic State on Lebanese soil without any direct cooperation with the Syrian army or Hezbollah. Any sign of joint operations with the Iran-backed group or the Syrian army could jeopardize the sizeable U.S. military assistance it receives. The United States - which classifies Hezbollah as a terrorist group - helps arm the Lebanese army and delivered eight new armored vehicles on Monday, its embassy said. Lebanon's Hezbollah has played a major role in battling the Sunni militants based on the frontier during Syria's six-year war, and has sent thousands of troops to fight alongside Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government. (Reporting by Ellen Francis; Editing by Alison Williams)

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