Hezbollah and Isis clash in first-ever battle

Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah and radical Islamist terror group Isis engaged in the first-ever direct clash between the two groups in Lebanon's northeastern Bekaa Valley yesterday.

Hezbollah's TV station Al-Manar confirmed that Hezbollah troops had repelled a pre-emptive Isis attack on Hezbollah positions on the Lebanese-Syrian border.

Analysts have confirmed that 14 Isis militants were killed in the clashes, while Hezbollah lost at least eight fighters, in what is a new dimension to Lebanon's battle against jihadi elements in the barren mountainous area on its border. Al-Manar TV claimed that the clash left 50 Isis militants dead but this claim could not be independently confirmed.

Isis sparked the firefight by launching an attack on four Hezbollah outposts near the Christian town of Ras Baalbek, Lebanon's Daily Star reported, in order to counter an upcoming offensive by the Shiite group to oust militants entrenched in the mountain area surrounding the town of Arsal in Lebanon's northeast.

"It is the heaviest loss Isis has sustained since fighting [with Hezbollah] began," an anonymous source told the website, adding that the offensive by the ultra-conservative Islamists was a "big failure".

The Lebanese outlet also confirmed that clashes have continued for a second day near Ras Baalbek, with Hezbollah rocket fire reportedly destroying two Isis military vehicles.

The Lebanese army and Hezbollah have been involved in clashes with Isis' rival jihadi group the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front in the border region, this week capturing territory from the group in Syria's Qalamoun mountains. However this is believed to be the first direct contact that the Shiite group has had in battle with an Isis militia.

"Hezbollah has had advisors in combat zones in Iraq for example where they could have had direct contact with Isis. But, in the northeastern Bekaa [Valley] this is the first time where Hezbollah as its own force has engaged directly with a militia that is part of Isis," says Daniel Nisman, president of the geopolitical risk consultancy the Levantine Group.

"Hezbollah had been embarking on this operation to clear out between 1,000 to 3,000 militants who have been in these barren hills along the Lebanese and Syrian border," he adds. "They had at least eight of their own guys killed, which is probably one of the highest death tolls [in a single clash] for Hezbollah in a while."

Hezbollah, led by the reclusive Hassan Nasrallah and heavily supported by Iran's Shiite government, announced a large-scale offensive against radical militants in the border region, with its leader claiming that the Lebanese army was incapable of defending the country's eastern border.

Hezbollah's media channel Al-Manar has claimed that the group has ousted Nusra Front from two-thirds of the territory in the border region, with 31 Hezbollah fighters and 196 Nusra Front militants being killed in the conflict between the two.