Buses arrive to evacuate two besieged pro-Assad Syrian…

Syrian opposition regime allies to exchange hostages

'Deal reached to evacuate pro-regime Syria towns'

An evacuation began overnight of thousands of people from two loyalist Syrian villages that are besieged by rebels in the northwest, a war monitor said, with the government expected to release hundreds of detainees in return.

After several attempts to evacuate people from the both pro-government Shiite towns failed to put an end to the years-long siege, they are finally free.

The deal also includes release of thirty four prisoners captured by Hezbollah during its siege of the Madaya and Zabadani.

The evacuation deal reached Tuesday is not the first for the two tiny towns.

A commander in the regional alliance that backs Assad and an Islamist rebel source familiar with the secret talks said separately that Turkey was also involved in the process, which builds on a deal from a year ago that had not been fully implemented.

In the past two years, thousands of people, mostly from rebel-held areas besieged by the government, have been forced to move to territories still under rebel control as part of evacuation deals. Fuaa and Kafraya came under siege in 2015 as militants overran the surrounding province of Idlib, cutting off access to food and medicine.

In April of 2017, 112 people from both towns were killed while reaching a rebel-held area in Aleppo, when rebels detonated a vehicle bomb near the buses transporting them to the government-controlled parts in Aleppo city.

The April evacuation was halted after a blast killed 150 people, including 72 children.

Traumatised residents left behind are now afraid that scenario might happen again.

Syria's conflict erupted in March 2011 with protests against President Bashar al-Assad that escalated into a devastating, complex war.

Idlib is part of a de-escalation deal - signed by Iran, Russia and Turkey - that calls for the cessations of hostilities between rebel groups and government forces.

Those three countries have become the main powerbrokers in Syria, agreeing past year to create four "de-escalation" zones to pave the way for a nationwide ceasefire. It borders Turkey to the northwest but is otherwise nearly totally surrounded by regime territory, prompting fears the government would eventually attack it.

But the Observatory said the terms of the new Russia-Turkey deal included keeping the regime from waging a military operation there. It would see all residents ferried to regime-held territory in neighbouring Aleppo province, the Britain-based monitor said.

The M5 connects Damascus to second city Aleppo in the north.

Assad's forces have already recaptured two of the "de-escalation" zones this year: Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus and an area in central Homs. According to Al-Manar's reporter, many had smashed windscreens and had been pelted with rocks as they drove through rebel areas.

"Since yesterday morning, heavy Russian air strikes and barrel bombs dropped by the regime have been targetting an area straddling Quneitra and Daraa", the Observatory said.

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