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Syria deal sees captives released, militants evacuate capital districts Open in fullscreen

The New Arab & agencies

Syria deal sees captives released, militants evacuate capital districts

The regime has been pressing a military offensive to retake Yarmouk [Getty]

Date of publication: 1 May, 2018

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Over three dozen Syrians held for years by al-Qaeda-linked insurgents have been released as part of a deal to hand over areas around Damascus back to the regime.

Over three dozen Syrians held for years by al-Qaeda-linked insurgents in the country's northwest were released on Tuesday as part of a deal to hand over areas around Damascus back to the government.

The 42 people freed on Tuesday are the first batch of more than 80 who are due to be released. The captives had been held by the insurgents since 2015.

Along with their release, the deal will see al-Qaida-linked fighters from the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group evacuate from a Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus.

Around 5,000 people in two northwestern villages - besieged by rebels - will be allowed to move to regime-held areas.

This is the latest in a series of evacuation deals for areas surrounding the capital, Damascus, that came under intense military offensive and crippling sieges.

But the latest deal does not restore full government control over the sprawling Yarmouk camp, where Islamic State group militants control small pockets of the camp are continuing to clash with regime fighters.

Another deal to evacuate three other suburbs south of Damascus is expected to take place in the coming days.

State-run al-Ikhbariya said nearly 20 wounded or ill from the two besieged villages were evacuated on Tuesday.

But the evacuation of more than 1,000 residents of the villages of Fuaa and Kafraya has apparently stalled amid security concerns.

The residents reportedly are demanding they all leave at once instead of in batches for security reasons.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said five buses carrying around 200 insurgents from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham arrived at the handover area south of Aleppo after they left the Yarmouk camp.

The regime launched its offensive on the camp after pro-regime fighters reconquered what was once the former rebel bastion of Eastern Ghouta east of the capital last month.

Punishing air raids have killed dozens of civlians in the Palestinian refugee camp.

The Damascus regime has retaken large parts of Syria since 2015 with the backing of Russia, but most of Idlib province still lies outside its control.

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