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'Deal reached' to evacuate two besieged pro-regime Syria towns

Fuaa and Kafraya are home to an estimated 8,100 mostly Shia Muslims [Getty]

Date of publication: 17 July, 2018

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Thousands of people will be evacuated from two besieged pro-regime towns in Syria in exchange for the release of prisoners held in government jails.

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

Under a deal brokered by regime ally Russia and Turkey, Fuaa and Kafraya, the last besieged towns in the country, will be fully evacuated after three years of encirclement, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"The deal provides for the total evacuation of residents in the two towns, which are besieged by rebels and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, to regime territory in nearby Aleppo province," said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) is a jihadi alliance led by al-Qaeda's former affiliate in Syria.

"In exchange, hundreds of detainees will be released from regime prisons," Abdel Rahman told AFP.

Syrian state media reported on Tuesday on preliminary information on a deal to free "thousands" of people in Fuaa and Kafraya.

Fuaa and Kafraya - the only two places in Syria currently designated as besieged by the United Nations - are home to an estimated 8,100 people, most of them Shia Muslims.

They came under siege in 2015 when rebels and allied jihadis overran the surrounding province of Idlib in Syria's northwest.

The evacuation deal is not the first that has been reached for the area.

In 2017, thousands were bussed out of Fuaa and Kafraya in exchange for parallel evacuations from two towns near Damascus that were being besieged by the government.

But a blast targeting a convoy of evacuees from Fuaa and Kafraya left 150 people dead, most of them civilians and including 72 children.

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