Buses arrive to evacuate two besieged pro-Assad Syrian villages

Rebels and Iran-backed forces agreed on a deal to evacuate the two mostly Shi’ite villages in return for the release of hundreds of detainees in state prisons, sources said.

A member of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group, led by Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate, watches as a convoy of buses gets ready to enter the towns of al-Foua and Kefraya to evacuate their residents on 18 July 2018. Picture: AFP.

BEIRUT - Dozens of buses reached two Syrian government loyalist villages under siege from insurgents in the north-west, as part of a deal to evacuate residents on Wednesday, state media said.

Some 6,000 people will leave, emptying out the mostly Shi’ite villages of al-Foua and Kefraya, a commander in the regional alliance that backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told Reuters.

Rebels and Iran-backed forces agreed on a deal to evacuate the two mostly Shi’ite villages in return for the release of hundreds of detainees in state prisons, sources said on Tuesday.

Opposition sources said officials from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a coalition spearheaded by Syria’s former al-Qaeda offshoot, and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards had negotiated the deal.

“Buses and ambulances enter the villages of al-Foua and Kefraya to bring out the besieged people,” state news agency SANA said.

In April 2017, thousands of people in the two villages were shuttled out to government territory in a swap deal.

In return, hundreds of residents left two towns at the border with Lebanon which were in the hands of Sunni rebels at the time and besieged by pro-government forces.

They were evacuated to insurgent territory in northern Syria.