BEIRUT -- After more than a week of negotiations among Syrian opposition groups, pro-Syrian regime fighters and their respective international backers, a ceasefire agreement has been reached in two areas of Syria on the border with Lebanon. Turkey, Iran and the United Nations mediated negotiations for a ceasefire in two Shiite villages in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib and another town near the border with Lebanon.
If the ceasefire holds, it would mean six months of peace in Zabadani and would give thousands of civilians trapped in the rebel-besieged towns of Fuaa and Kefraya a chance to escape to regime-controlled areas.
Lebanese Hezbollah fighters and members of Jaish al-Fatah (Army of Conquest), a Syrian opposition umbrella group that includes fighters from al Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra and Turkey-backed Ahrar al-Sham, have been fighting in Zabadani, on the Lebanese border, since July. A ceasefire would allow the two factions to tend to injured fighters and focus their efforts elsewhere.
The first steps of the agreement include evacuation of wounded fighters and of civilians inside the two Shiite towns in the area, which began late Sunday night. The United Nations brought at least two wounded Syrian opposition fighters into Lebanon late Sunday evening for medical treatment, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Preparations for a larger-scale evacuation began early Monday.
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Roughly 10,000 civilians are expected to be evacuated from Fuaa and Kefraya, two Shiite-majority towns in the Damascus countryside that are surrounded by Sunni rebels. Civilians will be given safe passage to regime-controlled areas with the help of the Red Cross, Agence France-Presse reported.
In exchange, opposition fighters will leave their posts near the Lebanese border and surrender large weapons. Fighters will be allowed to keep smaller arms, a source close to Hezbollah told International Business Times.
The Syrian army already has kept to one of its initial promises in the agreement, al-Masdar News reported. The army Monday transferred several wounded Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra fighters to Idlib city, the province’s capital, where Jaish al-Fatah remains in control.
Though the ceasefire deal was reached Thursday, it was unclear if opposing sides would adhere to the terms after a series of attacks violated the truce during the weekend. Jaish al-Fatah released a statement Saturday claiming the Syrian army launched airstrikes on two towns in Idlib where a “no-fly zone” was implemented as part of the ceasefire negotiations. The airstrikes were followed by alleged rebel mortar fire on a Syrian army position in Fuaa.