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Evacuation buses enter pro-regime Syria villages after deal: SANA

Evacuation buses have reached two Syrian pro-regime villages under siege from rebels [Twitter]

Date of publication: 18 July, 2018

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Around 6,000 people will leave the majority Shia villages of Fuaa and Kafraya

Evacuation buses have reached two Syrian pro-regime villages under siege from rebels in the northwest, following a deal to evacuate their residents, reported Syrian state media on Wednesday.

"Buses and ambulances enter the villages of Fuaa and Kafraya to bring out the besieged people," state news agency SANA said.

Around 6,000 people will leave the majority Shia villages, a commander in the regional alliance that backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told Reuters.

The evacuation will be 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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