The process of evacuating thousands of civilians and militants from besieged parts of Syria — in line with an earlier agreement between the Assad regime and opposition forces — is now underway, according to an Anadolu Agency correspondent on the ground in Syria.
The agreement, hammered out between the two sides on March 30, calls for the evacuation of civilians from four besieged districts of the country: Madaya, Al-Zabadani, Kefraya and Al-Fuaa.
Madaya and Al-Zadabani, both of which are located some 40 kilometers northwest of Damascus, are currently encircled by regime forces, while Kefraya and Al-Fuaa — both in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province — remain encircled by opposition forces.
Along with the evacuations, last month’s agreement calls for a nine-month cessation of hostilities and the delivery of humanitarian aid into conflict zones.
On Friday, buses set out from the regime-besieged Madaya and Zabadani districts carrying some 2,350 passengers, including almost 1,000 opposition fighters.
The buses are now heading towards opposition-held Idlib, where evacuees will be accommodated in camps set up in the province’s northern countryside.
Meanwhile, buses carrying some 4,000 regime loyalists set out from Idlib’s Kefraya and Al-Fuaa districts — both of which remain surrounded by opposition forces — towards Aleppo.
A combined total of at least 8,000 people — including both civilians and militants — are ultimately expected to leave the two Shia-majority districts.
According to reports, some 20 areas across the war-torn country remain under siege by Assad regime forces.
Since then, as many as 400,000 people are estimated to have been killed — and millions more displaced — as a result of the conflict, according to UN officials.