Evacuation begins in four besieged Syrian towns

The Syrian government and rebels have begun a coordinated population swap of around 30,000 people trapped in each other's territory.

Near the capital of Damascus, some 60 buses carrying 2,350 opposition fighters, activists and their families departed from two opposition-held towns in the direction of Idlib, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group and Syrian state media.

The towns of Madaya and Zabadani are also being evacuated, but civilians will be allowed to remain there if they want to.

"The first buses that moved were the ones leaving Idlib province". They have been unable to leave and circled in by rebel fighters and Sunni jihadists, linked to al-Qaeda for over a year.

All 16,000 residents of Fuaa and Kafraya are expected to leave, heading to government-held Aleppo, the coastal province of Latakia or Damascus.

But access has been limited, with food and medical shortages causing malnutrition, illness and even death among besieged residents.


According to the United Nations, at least 4.7 million people are living in hard-to-reach and besieged areas in Syria and are exposed to grave protection threats. They are still in rebel-controlled areas in western Aleppo and will stay there for a while.

"But of course they're going to go back to their cities after the liberation", he said.

Similar agreements have been reached in recent months, with Syrian rebels leaving areas long-besieged by President Bashar al-Assad's forces, sometimes in exchange for Shi'ite Muslim residents moving from the villages surrounded by the mostly Sunni insurgents.

Twelve opposition fighters and 19 Syrian regime soldiers were released as part of the exchange.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed in the Syrian war, mostly by the regime and its powerful allies, and millions have been displaced both inside and outside of Syria.

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