Mass evacuation in Syria begins with prisoner exchange | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 12.04.2017
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Middle East

Mass evacuation in Syria begins with prisoner exchange

More than 30 prisoners were exchanged before an evacuation from both pro-government and rebel-held villages. At least 18,000 people are expected to be evacuated.

A prisoner exchange between the Syrian government and rebel forces took place Wednesday ahead of a planned evacuation of four villages.

An AFP photographer saw 12 prisoners released by rebel groups in government-held Aleppo, nine of whom were suffering from injuries. Syrian news agency SANA said "19 militants," were transferred by government forces from Fuaa and Kafraya at the same time. Corpses of fallen fighters were also included in the transfer.

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent oversaw the exchange overnight, according to a member of the relief committee for Foua and Kfarya. The Red Crescent did not immediately comment on the matter.

A video from Syrian military media showed the prisoners before the exchange, sitting on the floor next to a pot of soup. Videos released by rebel groups show Red Crescent vans arriving in rebel-held Idlib province to chants of "God is greatest." Men, some dressed in military fatigues, embraced the released prisoners.

Syrien Madaya Busse für Evakuierung (picture-alliance/AP Photo/Syrian Central Military Media)

Evacuation buses arrived in Madaya and Zabadani early Wednesday, but have yet to appear in Fuaa and Kafraya

Evacuation to begin Wednesday evening

Buses stood ready in the rebel-held villages of Madaya and Zabadani on Wednesday morning, according to negotiators and residents. The area - roughly 40 kilometers (24 miles) northwest of Damascus - is currently surrounded by Syrian government forces.

However, a government coordinator for negotiations said evacuation vehicles had not yet arrived in the government-held, Shiite majority villages of Fuaa and Kafraya. The villages lie in the otherwise rebel-held Idlib province, roughly 50 kilometers southwest of Aleppo.

"The logistical details are all ready, but the armed groups are delaying things," the coordinator told AFP. "The entry of buses into Zabadani and Madaya was a goodwill gesture from the government but they will not leave without a simultaneous exit of the Fuaa and Kafraya convoy."

The four villages involved in Wednesday's evacuation are part of a 2015 agreement under which aid deliveries and evacuations are to occur simultaneously.

Civilians will have the option to stay, but all 16,000 in Fuaa and Kafraya are expected to leave, at which point they will be evacuated to the government-held city of Aleppo to the east, the coastal province of Latakia or Damascus in the southwest. About 2,000 people from Madaya and Zabadani have registered with authorities to take buses to the northern Idlib province, according to the residents.

More than 300,000 have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011.

kbd/kms (AFP, AP)

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