Syria conflict: Thousands prepare for prisoner exchange deal

Fighters from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) agreed to withdraw to Idlib province after Hezbollah, backed by Syrian forces, launched an offensive.

We review the key developments in Syria, including militant evacuations from the Lebanese border, USA warnings over al-Qaida's ascendancy in Idlib and reports that journalists in Raqqa have been wounded by a auto bombing.

The fighting ended with a cease-fire on July 27 for negotiations to allow refugees, fighters, and family members leave to Syria's northwest Idlib province and the central Qalamoun region.

Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees live in the town of Arsal, adjacent to the border region, and an unknown number are also thought to have taken shelter in the surrounding mountains.

Sources with Lebanon's Hezbollah movement reported that buses with Syrian militants and their families who were staying in Lebanese refugee camps crossed back into Syria late on Wednesday.

More than a hundred buses carrying thousands of al-Qaida-linked fighters and Syrian refugees drove down a dirt road from Lebanon into Syria on Wednesday, in what was the last phase of an exchange deal between Syria's al-Qaida branch and Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group.

About a week ago, Hezbollah has reportedly taken control of the mountainous zone of Juroud Arsal in a joint offensive with the Syrian army to drive Jabhat Fateh al-Sham fighters from their last border foothold.

The transfer of militants along with large numbers of refugees has echoed deals struck within Syria in which Damascus has shuttled rebels and civilians to Idlib and other opposition areas.

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In exchange, eight Hezbollah fighters held by al-Qaida's Syria affiliate, Fatah al-Sham Front, will be returned home.

The operation has highlighted the major role of Hezbollah in fighting militants along the frontier during Syria's six-year war, part of the much bigger role it has played across Syria in support of Assad.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said in a statement on Wednesday it was not involved in the deal between the Syrian and Lebanese militants.

Hezbollah chief, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, said last week that the liberation of the border region, known for its harsh geographical features, by Hezbollah forces and their allies in the Lebanese and Syrian armies was indeed a great achievement.

Hezbollah fighters on Thursday moved into the areas that Nusra abandoned under the ceasefire, the media unit said.

For his part, Amir-Abdollahian congratulated Hezbollah leader, Lebanese people, parliament and government on the 11th anniversary of Lebanon's victory against "Israel" in the 33-Day War.

A Syrian soldier takes position in the Syrian barren region of Fleita in western Syria near Lebanon as preparations were underway to transfer al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front militants on August 2, 2017.

Daesh is still holding nine Lebanese soldiers captured at that time.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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