The evacuation of Syrian civilians and fighters from four besieged towns, part of a Qatari-mediated swap deal between the warring sides, resumed on Friday after a two-day halt, regime media and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Five buses carrying rebels and their relatives from towns in Zabadani and surrounding areas near the capital Damascus left a transit point outside Aleppo city where they had been waiting to cross into rebel territory in Idlib province in the northwest, regime media said.
Meanwhile, ten of the 45 buses carrying people from the rebel-encircled Shi’ite towns of al-Fua and Kefraya arrived in Aleppo city, which is under the control of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Thousands of evacuees from the two Shi’ite towns have been stranded for two days at a second nearby staging area outside Aleppo, where scores of people were killed on Saturday in a bomb attack on an evacuation convoy.
Dozens of armed rebels were on Friday guarding the buses at Rashidin for fear of another attack.
The Britain-based Observatory said the 48-hour suspension was due to rebel demands for the regime to free 750 prisoners as part of the agreement.
The war monitor said it remained unclear if authorities had released the prisoners.
Under the deal, thousands of rebels and civilians have been moved out of Zabadani and Madaya, which have long been under siege by pro-regime forces, mainly Lebanon’s “Hezbollah.” They departed for Idlib, bringing the two towns near Damascus under regime control.
In exchange, thousands of civilians and pro-regime militants were moved out of al-Fua and Kefraya, besieged by rebel groups in Idlib.
Asharq Al-Awsat has learned that Qatar accepted the mediation in order to secure the release of its abducted nationals in Iraq.
The Qataris were kidnapped on December 16, 2015 from a desert hunting party in the province of Muthanna in Iraq.