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Syria, militants set to evacuate 4 towns as part of deal: Sources

A militant greets people in a convoy of buses and ambulances transporting civilians and militants from the towns of Zabadani and Madaya on the outskirts of the city of Idlib in northwestern Syria on April 21, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

The Syrian government and militants are reportedly set to begin the evacuation of four towns in Idlib and Rif Dimashq as part of a deal they reached late last month.

The Shia-populated towns of Foua and Kefraya, located in the northwestern province of Idlib, have been under a militant siege, while the Sunni-majority towns of Zabadani and Madaya, situated in Rif Dimashq Province near Syria’s border with Lebanon, are surrounded by pro-Damascus forces.

The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on March 28 that the two sides had stricken the deal that envisages the transfer of 16,000 people from Foua and Kefraya in exchange for the evacuation of militants and their families from the latter two.

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It later reported that reservations on either side had delayed the deal’s implementation, but said on Tuesday that the warring parties were to act on the agreement within a day.

Evacuations are expected to start on Wednesday morning, according to the UK-based monitoring group.

Reuters also quoted a pro-government commander as saying on condition of anonymity that, “It has been decided that tomorrow the agreement will be carried out.”

The monitor said convoys were now on the move towards the towns. Residents of the four towns have also started registering their names to move out, the Observatory said.

The agreement would also include a ceasefire covering areas south of Damascus as well as aid deliveries.

Last year, a similar accord oversaw mutual evacuations out of the towns.

According to Observatory’s director Rami Abdulrahman, however, the recent deal would enable the biggest population swap of its kind.

In mid-March, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said several aid trucks had been allowed into the four towns.

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Last December, several thousand civilians were also allowed to leave Foua and Kefraya under a separate deal between the armed groups and Damascus, which also enabled the evacuation of a militant-held enclave in eastern Aleppo.

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