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Syria, militants reach deal to evacuate 4 towns

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A convoy of vehicles carries United Nations food and medical aid to the militant-besieged towns of al-Foua and Kafraya on March 14, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

The Syrian government and anti-Damascus militants have reportedly reached a deal enabling the evacuation of civilians from four small towns in the Arab country.

As many as 16,000 people are to leave the Shia-populated towns of al-Foua and Kefraya over 60 days in exchange for the transfer of militants and their families out of the Sunni-majority towns of Zabadani and Madaya, the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday.

Foua and Kefraya, located in Idlib Province, have been under a militant siege, while the other two towns situated near Syria’s border with Lebanon are surrounded by pro-Damascus forces.

The monitor’s director Rami Abdulrahman said the deal would enable the biggest population swap of its kind.

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To help the agreement get underway, a ceasefire started affecting the areas on Tuesday. The actual exchange is to go ahead as of April 4.

The accord has also foreseen the implementation of a ceasefire covering areas south of Damascus, aid deliveries and the release of 1,500 government-held prisoners, the Observatory added.

Last December, an agreement mediated by Russia on behalf of the Syrian government, and Turkey on the militants’ side, created a ceasefire in the northwestern Syria city of Aleppo. The deal, which is also backed by Iran, was then extended to entire Syria.

The countries have also been mediating intra-Syrian talks in the Kazakh capital of Astana. The negotiations have been hailed for their contribution to another process underway in Geneva under the United Nations auspices.

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