BEIRUT, Dec 28 (Reuters) – Buses carrying several hundred fighters and civilians left two besieged areas on Monday for Turkish and Lebanese border crossings under a U.N.-backed deal by warring parties, aid workers and sources familiar with the deal said.
At least 130, mostly wounded, rebel fighters left the border town of Zabadani for the Lebanese border at the same time as about 350 fighters and civilians from pro-government besieged Shiite towns in northwestern Syria, who headed for a Turkish border crossing.
Around 300 families in two besieged Shiite towns in the mainly rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib were due to head to the Turkish border, and then fly on to Beirut.
Relief workers and rebel fighters helped carry several young men in wheelchairs onto ambulances in a square in Zadabadi, one witness told Reuters.
Much of the town was devastated in a major offensive launched in July against the insurgents by the Syrian army and its allies from the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah.
The United Nations and foreign governments have tried to broker local ceasefires and safe-passage agreements as steps towards the wider goal of ending Syria’s near five-year civil war.
Iran, which backs the government, and Turkey, which backs the rebels, helped organize local ceasefires in Zabadani and the two villages in Idlib in September in the first phase of the deal overseen by International Committee of the Red Cross.
The mostly Sunni Muslim rebel fighters going to Turkey would then be able to go back to rebel-held areas in Syria through the northern Turkish border or stay for treatment, according to rebel sources close to the negotiations.
The Shiite Syrians are holed up in areas mostly under Sunni rebel control and would be able to get to Lebanon where Hezbollah would be able to watch over them, added the sources.
They are then expected to go back to other parts Syria, Syrian Minister of National Reconciliation Ali Haider said on Hezbollah’s Manar TV station on Monday.