BBCI: Lebanon border jihadists withdraw to Syria

In exchange, the jihadist group released two Hezbollah fighters, an AFP correspondent said, adding that they arrived in Red Crescent vehicles in the area of Al-Saan in central Hama province.

The al-Qaida faction will release five more Hezbollah fighters held in Syria.

Around 150 buses were stationed at the Lebanese-Syrian border Monday to transport thousands of Syrians to the Syrian regions of Idlib and Qalamoun.

Some 7,000 Syrians, including 1,000 fighters, were to leave the Lebanese town of Arsal and the surrounding border area and head for Syria's northwestern Idlib province under the truce deal, Hezbollah-run media outlets said.

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.

According to Al Jazeera reporter Imtiaz Tyab, this was the first occasion when a peace deal between the two warring groups has paved the way for the evacuation of "such a large number of Syrian refugees and fighters who are opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and have been in open conflict with Hezbollah and Lebanese forces".

The deal is thought to be similar to deals concluded inside Syria, under which the Syrian government transferred opponents and civilians to Idlib and other areas under opposition control.

Almost 7,000 Syrians are expected to leave the area under the ceasefire deal, according to Hezbollah-run media.

While the Lebanese Red Cross has taken part in logistics of the transfer, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has not been involved.

Three Hezbollah fighters were released on Wednesday morning by an al-Qaida affiliate in Syria, in return for the release of three al-Qaida fighters who were held in Lebanon.

Khaled said the UNHCR has been trying to reach refugees in the border region of Arsal to determine whether returns were voluntary. That group is known as the Hay'at Tahrir al Sham militant alliance - Arabic for the Levant Liberation Committee - or HTS.

The Lebanese army, which receives considerable USA and British military support, did not take an active part in the operation, setting up defensive positions around Arsal.

A picture taken on July 29, 2017 during a tour led by Hezbollah shows members of the media gathering in a mountainous area around Arsal along the border with Syria.

Hizbullah has argued that efforts to topple the Syrian government destabilise Lebanon and has fought on Damascus's side since 2012.

After the town was taken back over by soldiers, Lebanese allies took journalists on a tour through the area showing them supply stockpiles and military equipment left behind by Islamic militants.

Syrian men carry their bags near a bus in Jroud Arsal, Lebanon August 2, 2017.


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