Exchange of residents begins under evacuation deal


The transfer has begun of the residents of two Syrian towns in exchange for moving fighters and civilians out of two others, under an evacuation deal reached by rival parties, according to a monitoring group.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) says buses have started transporting people under a pact that involves four towns.

At least 50 buses entered rebel-held Zabadani and Madaya near Damascus on Thursday while 100 buses and 20 ambulances arrived in Fouaa and Kefraya in Idlib province.

Syria evacuations under way after deal

Zabadani and Madaya have been besieged by the army of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and fighters of Hezbollah, the Lebanese armed group, since June 2015.

Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel Hamid, reporting from Hatay in southern Turkey near the Syrian border, said the buses started to move early in the morning.

“The first buses that moved were the ones leaving Idlib province. They have arrived in Aleppo province. They are still in rebel-controlled areas in western Aleppo and will stay there for a while.

“Those moving from Zabadani and Madaya have a much longer way to go through government controlled areas because there is a lack of trust between the two sides. The ones who have reached Aleppo will stay where they are until the others moving from Zabadani and Madaya reach the rebel controlled areas.

Fouaa and Kefraya are home to mostly Shia Muslims, who have been surrounded by Syrian rebels since March 2014.

An activist in Fouaa who requested to remain anonymous told Al Jazeera that rockets targeted some of the buses on their way out, causing damage to one bus and injuring two people.

“There are at least 7,500 people expecting to be evacuated, among them are at least 1,500 rebel fighters,” he said.

Residents leaving Fouaa and Kefraya will be taken to government-held areas in Aleppo.

The SOHR said at least 2,100 residents, including rebel fighters are to be evacuated from Zabadani and Madaya and transported to Idlib province.