Dozens of buses have arrived in Kefraya and al-Foua, both in Syria’s northwestern Idlib Province, as part of an evacuation deal to get locals out of the Shia-majority towns, which have long been besieged by foreign-backed militants.
Syrian state TV reported on Wednesday that 88 buses and several ambulances were ready to evacuate civilians from Kefraya and al-Foua, which have been encircled by terrorists since March 2015.
A pro-Damascus commander said a total of 6,300 people were expected to be evacuated from the area.
Militant sources said Iran had negotiated the deal with the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham terrorist group, under which all residents would be evacuated from Kefraya and al-Foua.
“We now are working on the logistical arrangements,” said a source familiar with the negotiations.
The Syrian government and its allies usually seek to secure such evacuation deals with the militants to decrease civilian casualties in the wake of a military operation.
The fresh evacuation builds on a deal, known as the “Four Towns Agreement,” reached last year between the Syrian government and militants. The agreement, however, was never fully implemented.
In April 2017, thousands of Kefraya and al-Foua residents were bussed out to government-held areas in a swap that granted, in exchange, safe passage to hundreds of people living in two militant-held towns near Damascus, Madaya and Zabadani.
However, the evacuation of some 7,000 Kefraya and al-Foua residents in return for the release of 1,500 militant prisoners did not go through.
The evacuation of Fou’a and Kefraya in Idlib as well as Zabadani and Madaya in Rif Dimashq begins as part of a deal between Damascus and militants.
A militant source familiar with the fresh talks told Reuters that more than 1,500 civilian and militant prisoners would be released under the latest evacuation deal.
It added that the deal also includes the release of 34 prisoners held by Lebanon’s Hezbollah resistance movement, which has been helping the Syrian army – along with Iran and Russia – in its counter-terrorism fight.
Meanwhile, the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that the evacuation deal was reached on Tuesday between Russia and militant supporter Turkey.
The UK-based monitoring group said that the deal “provides for the total evacuation” of Kefraya and al-Foua to a territory in nearby Aleppo Province.
Syrian army advances in Dara’a
Additionally on Wednesday, Syrian fighter jets pounded terrorist positions across the Hawz al-Yarmouk region on Dar’a’s western outskirts.
Reports said a terrorist commander was killed in the town of Nawa in western Dara’a.
The SOHR, however, claimed that 12 civilians had lost their lives in the government airstrikes on Nawa, the last militant-held town in Dara’a Province.
“Negotiations were ongoing Wednesday towards Nawa joining the reconciliation deal” with the government for the wider province, SOHR head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
Since June 19, the Syrian army has been conducting a major counter-terrorism operation in Dara’a, which also borders Jordan and the Golan Heights.
Dara’a militants have been handing over their heavy weapons to Syrian government forces and leaving the region in negotiated surrender deals mediated by Russia.
The Syrian military has so far liberated more than 90 percent of Dara’a Province from the grip of Takfiri elements.