Thousands to be evacuated from Lebanon-Syria border

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The transfer of thousands of Syrian fighters and refugees from Lebanon’s border region into rebel territory in Syria in exchange for Hezbollah prisoners has been delayed to Tuesday.

A Hezbollah military media unit said that the delay was to allow for “logistical measures”, including the arrival to the area of all buses being used for transportation under a local ceasefire deal.

Under the deal between the opposition fighters and Hezbollah, about 9,000 rebels and their relatives were to leave to rebel-head areas in Syria in exchange for eight Hezbollah fighters held by the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as the al-Nusra Front.

The first step of the ceasefire, brokered by Lebanon’s internal security agency, unfolded on Sunday as the two sides exchanged the bodies of dead fighters.

The deal includes the departure of all Jabhat Fateh al-Sham fighters from Lebanon’s border region around the town of Arsal, along with any civilians in nearby refugee camps who wish to go.

The truce echoes deals struck within Syria in which Damascus has shuttled rebels and civilians to Idlib province and other opposition areas. Such evacuations have helped President Bashar al-Assad recapture several rebel bastions over the past year.

Speaking from Labweh, a Lebanese town near the border, Al Jazeera’s Imtiaz Tyab called the latest deal “unprecedented”.

“This is the first time that we’re seeing a deal which would see 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, exit the area and go to another area in Syria,” he said.

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Lebanon’s Hezbollah has played a major role in fighting rebels along the frontier during Syria’s six-year war, sending thousands of combatants to support Assad’s government.

Last week, Hezbollah took most 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.

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