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Syrian prisoners freed by regime under evacuation deal

Prisoners arrive in rebel-held territory after their release from regime jails on April 21 [AFP]

Date of publication: 22 April, 2017

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The release marks the first phase of an agreement between rebels and the regime to free 750 detainees as part of a deal to evacuate civilians from four besieged towns.
Around 100 Syrian prisoners held by Bashar al-Assad's regime were released from jail on Friday as part of a deal to evacuate civilians and fighters from four besieged towns.

The prisoners arrived in rebel-held territory outside Aleppo, Reuters reported. Their release marks the first phase of an agreement between rebels and the regime to free a total of 750 detainees over the coming weeks.

A spokesman for Ahrar al-Sham told Reuters that negotiations over the prisoners had ended and 500 would be released on Friday as part of the evacuation deal, with the rest freed over the coming days. The total number freed on Friday is unclear.

The evacuations, which began last week, were delayed after a suicide car bombing on Saturday killed 126 people - including 68 children - at the transit point in Rashidin. 

The process resumed on Wednesday, however, the evacuees were forced to stay on their buses for two nights after the last-minute demand from rebel groups that prisoners held by Assad's regime be released.

On Friday some 60 buses carrying both civilians and loyalist fighters from the besieged regime-held towns of Fuaa and Kafraya moved from the marshalling zone in rebel-held Rashidin, outside Aleppo, on Friday morning, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

A further 11 buses evacuating fighters and civilians from Zabadani and two other rebel-held areas around Damascus also resumed their evacuations, the UK-based monitor said.

Earlier this year, Amnesty International reported that the Syrian regime had hanged at least 13,000 prisoners at the military-run Saydnaya prison near Damascus since 2011.

Most of the victims were civilians believed to be opposed to the government of Assad.

Over 60,000 are thought to have died in Syrian regime prisons over the past six years from torture or due to dire humanitarian conditions, including a lack of food, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in 2016.

A UN probe that year accused the Syrian government of a policy of "extermination" in its jails.

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