Evacuation begins after Syria-Lebanon border truce

Evacuation begins after Syria-Lebanon border truce

The transfer from the Lebanese border town of Arsal toward the Syrian village of Flita was the last phase of an exchange deal between Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS) and the Lebanese Hezbollah group.

The evacuation of the last rebel foothold on the Lebanese border started on Thursday as a convoy of more than 100 buses carrying Syrian refugees and fighters began crossing into rebel-controlled Idlib province.

The withdrawal followed Hezbollah's recent gains in fighting against Syrian militants in Aarsal, a major arms and gunmen smuggling hub.

It declared a ceasefire on Thursday, having taken over most of the area.

The militants and civilians final destination will be the jihadi-held part of northwestern Syria, according to an agreement between Lebanon, Syria, Hezbollah, and Syria's al-Qaida affiliate.

"In the event of the hegemony of Nusra Front on Idlib, it would be hard for the United States to convince the worldwide parties not to take the necessary military measures", the diplomat said, referring to al-Qaida's former affiliate in Syria (the group also known as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham).

The first of five Hezbollah captives due to be released in the deal crossed into government territory at the same place, the Hezbollah-affiliated al-Manar television reported. "UNHCR is not in a position to ascertain to what extent refugees, who are civilians by definition, are returning in this movement", UNHCR said.

Last week, Hezbollah captured most of the mountainous zone of Jroud Arsal from the militants.

Russian and Hezbollah are important allies of the regime of President Assad in its fight against rebel groups.

The exchange between Syria's al-Qaida branch and Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group has resumed in what will lead to the return of thousands of Syrian refugees to their country.

Michael Ratney, the top State Department official in charge of Syria policy, said in an online letter that the latest offensive by the Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham alliance (HTS) had put "the future of northern Syria in big danger". The Lebanese army did not take part in joint offensive, deploying its forces around the town of Arsal strictly for defensive purposes.

Iran-backed Hezbollah, which has lost hundreds of fighters in Syria, says its fight is an existential one to stop extremists spreading to Lebanon.

For his part, Amir-Abdollahian congratulated Hezbollah leader, Lebanese people, parliament and government on the 11th anniversary of Lebanon's victory against "Israel" in the 33-Day War.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri told reporters in Beirut that authorities are ready to negotiate to discover the fate of nine Lebanese soldiers who were captured by IS in August 2014 along with those taken by HTS.

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