Nusra front
A member of al Qaeda's Nusra Front squats with his weapon in the town of the northwestern city of Ariha after a coalition of insurgent groups seized the area in Idlib province May 29, 2015. Ammar Abdullah/Reuters

BEIRUT-- A senior commander in Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al Qaeda, and at least eight other militants were killed Wednesday, in an operation jointly conducted in northeastern Lebanon by the Lebanese army and the Shiite armed group Hezbollah.

Lebanon’s National News Agency reported that Abou Firas al-Jebbeh, a Nusra leader and three of his men, who were residing in Wadi Khalid, just outside the border town of Arsal, were among those killed.

A second set of clashes between the army and Nusra militants was ongoing Wednesday afternoon, with reports of additional casualties whose numbers have not been confirmed. In a separate operation on the same day, at least two Syrian nationals were arrested in northern Lebanon, accused of belonging to militant groups, according to NNA.

The increase in anti-militant operations comes a week after Jabhat al-Nusra and Lebanon reached an agreement to release 16 Lebanese security forces the militant group had kidnapped in August 2014 as part of a prisoner exchange that included Saja al-Dulaimi, the ex-wife of Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Analysis from AssetSource, a mobile intelligence and monitoring company suggests the exchange has renewed Lebanese efforts to target militants, in the knowledge that their security forces are no longer at risk. Meanwhile, Hezbollah, allied with Syrian government forces, is continuing its fight against Syrian militant groups as Russia hits Syrian opposition targets on the Lebanon-Syria border.