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Civilians, militants begin evacuating 4 Syria towns

Syrian forces stand guard next to a convoy of buses as they wait to enter the militant-held town of Zabadani, northwest of Damascus, on April 12, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Civilians and militants begin leaving four Syrian towns in the provinces of Idlib and Rif Dimashq under a deal reached between the Damascus government and militant groups last month.

The process to evacuate Foua and Kefraya in Idlib as well as Zabadani and Madaya in Rif Dimashq was due to start on Wednesday, but it was postponed amid reports of bickering among militant groups.

Foua and Kefraya have been under a militant siege, while the towns of Zabadani and Madaya are surrounded by pro-government forces.

In late March, the Syrian government and militant groups reached a deal that envisaged the transfer of 16,000 people from Foua and Kefraya in exchange for the evacuation of militants and their families from the latter two.

Residents of Foua and Kefraya were agreed to be transferred to the outskirts of Aleppo City, the coastal province of Latakia or Damascus, while the gunmen and their families would leave for Idlib City.

On Friday morning, the al-Mayadeen television channel reported that buses carrying civilians from Foua and Kefraya had already reached the outskirts of Aleppo.

The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also confirmed the beginning of the evacuation.


Syrian Red Crescent ambulances stand in waiting to enter the militant-held town of Zabadani, northwest of Damascus, on April 12, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

More than 30,000 people are expected to be evacuated under the deal, which began on Wednesday with an exchange of prisoners between militants and government forces.

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) is supervising the implementation of the deal, which is described as the biggest population swap of its kind.

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

Last December, several thousand civilians were 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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