A convoy of ISIS militants found itself with nowhere to go after getting stuck Thursday in Syria following U.S.–led airstrikes that blocked it in.
More than 300 militants and their families were in the convoy of buses after vacating the Lebanon-Syria border as part of a Hezbollah-negotiated deal to transport them to an ISIS-held town in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border.
The deal has angered Iraq and the U.S., which launched airstrikes Wednesday to block the convoy’s advance.
“They’re on the move. They’re trying a different route; we’re watching all the way through,” Col. Ryan Dillon, the American coalition spokesman, told The New York Times. "If ISIS wants to continue to send known ISIS fighters and vehicles toward this convoy, we will continue to fight them."
After being stuck for hours at an exchange point, the buses moved further north to a government-controlled area while negotiations continued in search of a new way to reach an ISIS-held area further east.
Earlier in the day, ISIS handed over to Hezbollah the body of a recently captured Iranian Revolutionary Guard member as part of the deal.
The Lebanese Hezbollah group, which negotiated the controversial agreement, said it had received the body of Mohsen Hojaji and would conduct DNA tests before sending his remains onward to Iran. The handover was reported by the Hezbollah-run Al-Manar TV.
The militants revealed the locations of the remains of Lebanese soldiers captured in 2014 in exchange for safe passage through Syrian government-held territory into ISIS-held area near the Iraqi border.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said Thursday he met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in person and asked for his help in securing the deal that would help clear the Lebanon-Syria border area.
"I went to President Assad...I went to Damascus," he said, adding that he sought to convince Assad to let the convoy pass through government territory.
"He [Assad] told me, this is embarrassing for us, but no problem," Nasrallah told supporters gathered in eastern Lebanon for a "victory rally" to celebrate the expulsion of ISIS from the border area.
"The Syrian government has put up with the embarrassment for the sake of Lebanon," he said.
U.S. airstrikes on Wednesday destroyed a small bridge and cratered a road, forcing the convoy to halt. The U.S. has not targeted the evacuees themselves, but has struck other groups of ISIS militants in eastern Syria. Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said some ambulances that were part of the ISIS convoy were able to cross into ISIS-held territories in Syria.
He said the group was looking for ways the convoy could cross into ISIS-held areas without being struck by the U.S-led coalition.
Dillon said the coalition continued to monitor the buses.
"The buses have not made it to ISIS-held territory and we will stick with what we said yesterday, and that is we can strike ISIS elements without harming civilians whenever and wherever we will," Dillon said.
Also Thursday, Syrian troops and allied forces captured a strategic mountain overlooking the Deir el-Zour province, which was mostly under ISIS control, according to Iranian state television.
Russia, which is providing air support to Assad's forces, said capturing the oil-rich Deir el-Zour province is the current military priority.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.