Syria ends evacuation of militant-besieged towns

Mohamad ABAZEED

Buses set to evacuate residents of two long-time besieged towns in rural Idlib have made it into Kafrayya and Fouaa under a deal between Syrian government and militant groups, Al-Masdar News says.

Buses carrying nearly 7,000 people departed the towns and arrived near the city of Aleppo, which is controlled by the Assad regime.

A source from HTS on Tuesday said some 6,900 people - including civilians and fighters - were to be evacuated under the deal.

Just after midnight, the buses drove out of Fuaa and Kafraya and Thursday morning were at the village of Al Eis, crossing from rebel-controlled territory into regime-held areas in Aleppo province.

Thousands of people will be evacuated from two besieged pro-regime towns in Syria in exchange for the release of prisoners held in regime's jails, a monitor said on Tuesday.

The SOHR, however, claimed that 12 civilians had lost their lives in the government airstrikes on Nawa, the last militant-held town in Dara'a Province.

"Negotiations were ongoing Wednesday towards Nawa joining the reconciliation deal" with the government for the wider province, SOHR head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

Fuaa and Kafraya came under siege in 2015 as rebels overran the surrounding province of Idlib, cutting off access to food and medicine.

Meanwhile, the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the evacuation deal was reached on Tuesday between Russian Federation and militant supporter Turkey.

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In exchange, hundreds of residents left two towns at the border with Lebanon, Madaya and Zabadani, which were in the hands of Sunni rebels at the time and under siege from pro-government forces.

In April 2017, 112 people from both towns were killed while reaching a rebel-held area in Aleppo, when rebels detonated a vehicle bomb near the buses transporting them.

Foua and Kefraya in the northwestern province of Idlib are encircled by Takfiri terrorists. According to HTS sources, the evacuation had been agreed in exchange for the release of 1,500 people from government-run jails.

Fuaa and Kafraya, the only two places in Syria now designated as besieged by the United Nations, are home to an estimated 8,100 people, a lot of them Shiite Muslims.

Several thousand residents evacuated two pro-regime towns in northern Syria on Thursday, putting an end to one of the longest sieges of the country's seven-year civil war.

Some reports have suggested Tuesday's deal also involves an agreement to spare Idlib a military offensive by the regime.

Syria's conflict erupted in March 2011 with protests gainst President Bashar al-Assad that later spun out into full-fledged war.

But with the progress of the Syrian army across the country, those sieges were broken by both sides, the latest of which was the government siege on the Eastern Ghouta countryside of the capital Damascus.

Nevertheless, fighting has continued in the south though, with at least 15 civilians reported killed in air strikes in Daraa province on Wednesday.

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