The evacuation of three Syrian towns, relocating more than 450 fighters and civilians, has started in a rare deal between the regime and rebels. Elsewhere, fighting continued with deaths reported in the city of Homs.
A Lebanese convoy has crossed into Syria to start evacuating and resettling scores of opposition fighters and civilians from several border villages. The convoy included more than 30 Lebanese Red Cross ambulances as part of the evacuation, intending to take wounded civilians and fighters out of the area first.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in the UK, said that 129 civilians and fighters holed up for months in the predominantly Sunni village of Zabadani near the Lebanese border would be taken to Beirut, then flown to Turkey, and later returned to opposition-held areas in Syria.
In return, a further 338 civilians will leave the predominantly Shiite villages of Foua and Kfarya, currently held by pro-government militias. People from those two villages will first be moved to Turkey, and will later be flown from there to Beirut to either remain in Lebanon or to travel over land to Damascus or other parts of Syria.
More evacuations planned
The evacuation is part of a UN-brokered truce between Syrian rebels and the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah for the two key Syrian battleground areas. The governments of Turkey and Iran were also involved in securing the agreement, which involves the transfer of thousands of Shiite and Sunni civilians and fighters from one area to another under the oversight of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
While the evacuations were underway, the city of Homs suffered further clashes resulting in many deaths
A similar deal involving thousands of jihadists and civilians from southern Damascus was derailed after the recent death of rebel chief Zahran Allouch.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime has previously agreed to several such ceasefires with rebel groups. These so-called "local reconciliation" deals allow rebels to lay down their weapons in exchange for allowing in humanitarian aid to inhabitants living under siege.
Homs 'terrorist' explosions reported
While these evacuations were underway, at least 14 people were killed and dozens wounded in twin bomb blasts on the same day in the city of Homs, Syrian state media reported.
"The preliminary toll in simultaneous terrorist explosions that hit the city's Al-Zahraa neighbourhood is 14 dead and 132 wounded," state television reported.
However, Reuters news agency said that the death toll in Al-Zahraa was actually as high as at least 32, while another 90 were wounded, based on reports from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The residents of the Homs neighborhood Al-Zahraa are mostly Alawite - a minority sect, which President Bashar al-Assad also belongs to. The area has come under repeated attack in recent weeks.
More than 250,000 people have died in Syria since the beginning of the civil war that started in 2011.
ss/msh (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)