Turkey part of swap deal for Syrian villages

Turkey part of swap deal for Syrian villages

Turkey part of swap deal for Syrian villages

Buses evacuate Syrian civilians as hundreds of civilians and rebel forces began leaving the last opposition-held district of Waer, in the central city of Homs, under a deal with the Syrian regime, on December 9, 2015. AFP File Photo

Turkey and Lebanon have become part of a United Nations-brokered swap deal for three Syrian villages, as buses and ambulances carrying around 450 fighters and civilians evacuated from two besieged areas in Syria have crossed into Turkey and Lebanon, Reuters quoted sources at the border crossings as saying. 

Fighters from the besieged rebel-held town of Zabadani near Lebanon are heading to Lebanon and then to Turkey before heading to other rebel-held areas of Syria as part of the deal.

Simultaneously, around 330 civilians and injured fighters trapped in two pro-government Shiite villages in the mainly rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib were heading to Turkey’s southern province of Hatay to take a plane to Beirut, aid workers said. Families evacuated Fuaa and Kefraya, the last two government-held Shiite villages in Idlib province. 

Relief workers and rebel fighters helped carry several young men in wheelchairs onto ambulances in a square in Zabadani, one witness told Reuters. 

Much of the town was devastated in a major offensive launched in July against the insurgents by the Syrian army and its allies from the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah. 

President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has agreed to several cease-fires with rebel groups in the past but the Dec. 28 evacuation plan was one of the most elaborate in the nearly five-year war.

The United Nations has been pushing for such local deals as global powers pursue wider efforts to resolve a conflict that left more than 250,000 dead and forced millions from their homes.

The mostly Sunni Muslim rebel fighters going to Turkey via Beirut would then be able to go back to rebel-held areas in Syria through the northern Turkish border or stay for treatment, according to rebel sources close to the negotiations. 

The Shiite Syrians are holed up in an areas mostly under Sunni rebel control and would be able to reach Lebanon where Hezbollah would be able to watch over them, added the sources. 

They are then expected to go back to other parts Syria, Syrian Minister of National Reconciliation Ali Haider said on Hezbollah’s Manar TV on Dec. 28.