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Evacuation of militant-besieged towns in Syria's Idlib ends

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)
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham militants are seen near ambulances and buses outside the besieged towns of Kefraya and al-Foua, Idlib Province, Syria, July 18, 2018. (Photo by Reuters)

Syria has completed the evacuation of thousands of people from two Shia-majority towns, which have long been besieged by foreign-backed militants, state media say.

Syria’s al-khbariya TV reported on Thursday that all buses had left Kefraya and al-Foua, both in Syria’s northwestern Idlib Province, and that the towns had been “empty of civilians.”

It also noted that 10 ambulances, carrying those in critical condition, had departed from the besieged towns.

The buses, the report said, are travelling through militant-controlled territory and have not reached a government checkpoint around 30 kilometers away from Kefraya and al-Foua, which have been encircled by terrorists since March 2015.

The evacuees are being taken to government-held territory in Syria’s Aleppo Province.

Syria’s SANA news agency quoted Hamid Kano, a member of the Aleppo Executive Office, as saying that the province has prepared temporary housing centers to receive the Kefraya and al-Foua residents.

The Syrian government, in exchange, is to release hundreds of militant prisoners.

The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is sympathetic to the anti-Damascus militants, said some 6,900 civilians and militants had been evacuated from the besieged towns, and that the government had “started releasing detainees, as per the deal.”

Last year, the Syrian government and militants reached a deal, known as the “Four Towns Agreement” that allowed the evacuation of the Kefraya and al-Foua locals.

In return, people in Madaya and Zabadani were given safe passage out of the two militant-held towns situated near Damascus.

However, the deal was not fully implemented.

Militant sources claimed Iran had negotiated the recent evacuation deal with the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham terrorist group operating in the region.

But, a pro-Damascus commander and a militant source said separately that Turkey was also involved in the process.

A militant source familiar with the talks told Reuters that more than 1,500 civilian and militant prisoners would be released under the latest evacuation deal.

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