Pro-Assad villages evacuated in rebels deal
Two pro-government villages in north-western Syria were evacuated yesterday, state television said, in an agreement between the Damascus government and insurgents who had laid siege to them for several years.
In exchange, the government was due to release hundreds of prisoners from its jails. Pro-Damascus TV stations said at least 20 buses carrying "militants" released from jail had crossed into rebel-held territory under the agreement.
Close to 7,000 people - civilians and fighters - were due to leave the pro-Assad Shi'ite villages of al-Foua and Kefraya in Idlib province. They were ferried out in a convoy of buses through rebel-held territory to nearby government-held territory in Aleppo province.
A commander in the regional alliance that backs Damascus said insurgents in Idlib were still holding around 1,000 of the evacuees near the crossing last night.
Footage broadcast by al-Manar TV, which is run by the Shi'ite group Hezbollah, showed buses arriving at a government checkpoint in al-Eis, east of the two villages, earlier in the day. Many had smashed windscreens - al-Manar's reporter said they had been pelted with rocks as they drove through rebel areas.