Regime loyalists evacuated from two Idlib towns in Syrian deal for releasing prisoners

The villages of northern Syria’s Idlib province – the last major rebel stronghold in the country – had been under siege for more than three years. [Khalil Ashawi/Reuters]

Thousands of residents from two rebel-besieged loyalist towns in northwestern Syria have been evacuated to government-controlled territory as part of a deal that will see hundreds of detainees released from state-run prisons.

The last remaining residents of the predominantly Shia towns of al-Foua and Kefraya, estimated at 6,000, departed after more than a hundred buses arrived early on Thursday to transport them to government-held territory in Aleppo province.

On Wednesday, rebels from Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham – a group formerly linked to al-Qaeda – and Iran-backed forces reached an agreement to evacuate people in exchange for the release of more than 1,500 civilians and rebels held in state prisons.

Thursday’s evacuation began with ambulances ferrying out the sick to a government checkpoint before 121 buses departed the villages, state-run al-Ikhbariya TV said.

The villages of northern Syria’s Idlib province – the last major rebel stronghold in the country – had been under siege for more than three years.

A deal for the evacuation of residents from the two Shia-majority towns was first reached in April 2017 but had only partially materialised with only a group of people evacuated to government-held areas.

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