Buses arrive to evacuate two besieged pro-Assad villages

Some 6,000 people will leave, emptying out the mostly Shiite villages of Al-Foua and Kefraya. — Reuters

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

Some 6,000 people will leave, emptying out the mostly Shiite 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 a deal to evacuate the two mostly Shiite 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 last year, 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.

A source from HTS on Tuesday said some 6,900 people — including civilians and fighters — were to be evacuated under the deal.

The source said 1,500 people would be freed from government-run jails.

The evacuation agreement reached Tuesday is not the first for the two tiny villages.

In April 2017, thousands were bussed out of Al-Foua and Kafraya in exchange for parallel evacuations from two towns near Damascus that were being besieged by the government.

But a blast targeting a convoy of evacuees from Al-Foua and Kafraya left 150 people dead, most of them civilians and including 72 children. — Agencies