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Evacuees arrive in Damascus in rare Syria deal, but fighting continues

More than 300 people were evacuated from the war-torn Idlib province in the north. But heavy fighting continued in the south as government forces retook a key military base.

A group of several hundred Syrians from two besieged towns arrived outside Damascus Tuesday after passing through Turkey and Lebanon as part of a rare UN-backed deal to evacuate people from flashpoint areas.

A source close to the deal confirmed the arrival of over 300 people from the government-controlled towns of Fuaa and Kafraya in northwestern Idlib province to the Sayyida Zeinab area south of the capital.

The

338 people were evacuated

in a deal that saw over 450 fighters and civilians, including the wounded, leave three flashpoint areas in Syria as part of a six-month truce reached in September.

Watch video 02:46

'A blow to the peace process in general'

The residents and fighters from Fuaa and Kafraya were taken to Turkey, flown to Beirut, and then driven into Syria. The two villages are under rebel siege.

At the same time, some 126 people from the rebel stronghold of Zabadani near the Lebanese border, which is

surrounded by government forces

, were evacuated to Beirut for transfer to Turkey.

From Turkey they were to travel on to rebel-held areas in northern Syria.

The evacuation was facilitated by the UN, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, which in a statement Monday urged the implementation of the rest of the deal, including the delivery of aid.

Tareq Wheibi, an ICRC spokesman, said

limited aid had been delivered during the operations on Monday

, but that more was needed.

"Yesterday we were able to deliver some aid, just some food and water, nothing really substantial," he said. "A lot more needs to be done and we're hoping this would happen in the next week. We're waiting for the green light."

Fighting continues elsewhere

Syrian government forces and their allies retook a key southern military base after heavy fighting with rebels and an al Qaeda affiliate on Tuesday, government and opposition activists said.

The base of Brigade 82 in the town of Sheikh al-Maskeen in Daraa province, which rebels captured last January,

fell to the government forces

, who also took control of the northern part of the town, they said.

"It's a very important gain for the regime forces, they've now cut the road between Daraa and Damascus," said Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

He said

the fighting began a day earlier

and that among the rebels were fighters from al Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, the al-Nusra Front, as well as other Islamic factions. Government troops were bolstered by Iranian officers, pro-government militiamen and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, as well as some 80 airstrikes from the government side.

bik/ng (AFP, AP)

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