The evacuation of the Syrian villages of Kefraya and al-Foua which were long besieged by foreign-backed militants has begun.
Thousands of people from the two Shia villages, located in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, began to leave overnight on Wednesday as part of a deal under which the government is expected to release hundreds of detainees in return.
Both villages are expected to be emptied of all their inhabitants.
Earlier on Wednesday, over a 100 buses and ambulances arrived to remove residents and fighters from the villages to close by government-held territory in the province of Aleppo.
Militant sources said Iran had negotiated the deal with the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham terrorist group, while the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the evacuation deal was reached on Tuesday between Russia and militant supporter Turkey.
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 an 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.