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Buses depart Syrian regime Idlib villages, following three-year siege

Fuaa and Kafraya are being evacuated [AFP]

Date of publication: 19 July, 2018

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Two Syrian villages which have been besieged by rebels for three years are being emptied of their inhabitants, following a deal between the two sides.
The last besieged villages in Syria are being emptied of their inhabitants, following a deal brokered by Turkey and Russia which will see Idlib province fully under rebel control.

Buses entered the Shia-majority villages Fuaa and Kafraya in opposition-controlled Idlib province late Wednesday evening for the anticipated evacuation.

The first buses carrying regime fighters and civilians left the besieged villages early on Thursday morning, in the first step to ending the three-year siege on the area.

An AFP correspondent counted a convoy of 20 buses departing the last regime strongholds in Idlib province, with the remaining 6,900 regime fighters and civilians expected to leave later in the day.

The deal will see civilians and pro-regime fighters evacuate the besieged villages in exchange for the release of hundreds of prisoners from the regime's notorious prisons.

Fuaa and Kafraya have been besieged since 2015, when rebels launched a lightning offensive in Idlib, which saw the whole province under opposition control - except for the two Shia-majority villages.

The sieges have seen food and medical supplies run desperately low, with rebels - mostly from the jihadi Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance - periodically shelling the villages.

Syria's regime had besieged a number of rebel towns and areas, leading to outbreaks of disease and starvation in places such as Madaya.

These areas were captured by the regime following local deals and punishing military offensives.

Fuaa and Kafraya also suffered terribly over the past three years, but were spared the worst of the war due to air drops from regime planes and occassional aid deliveries.

The UN has regularly pleaded with both sides to end sieges on civilian areas.

Agencies contributed to this story.

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