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Final evacuation of Syrian rebels from Lebanon border paves the way for anti-IS offensive

Hundreds of Syrian rebels and civilians are leaving Lebanon's border for Syria [Getty file photo]

Date of publication: 14 August, 2017

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The media arm of Lebanon’s militant Hizballah group says hundreds of Syrian rebels and civilians have started leaving the Lebanon-Syria border area after a deal was reached for their departure.
The media arm of Lebanon's militant group Hizballah says hundreds of Syrian rebels and civilians have started leaving the Lebanon-Syria border area after a deal was reached for their departure.

The Central Military Media says buses carrying members of the Levant People's Brigades (Saraya Ahl al-Sham) rebel group started moving on Monday from the badlands of the Lebanese border town of Arsal in the direction of the Syrian village of Fleeta.

A convoy of 34 buses carrying some 3,500 Free Syrian Army rebels and refugees left Arsal's outskirts for Syria Monday, reported Lebanon's The Daily Star.

The evacuation comes nearly two weeks after more than 7,000 Syrians, many of them al-Qaeda-linked fighters and their families, left Arsal, following an offensive by Hizballah.

Saraya Ahl al-Sham, whose members did not take part in last month's battles will be heading to the Syrian regime-held town of Ruhaiba, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) north-east of the Syrian capital, Damascus.

Once completed, the evacuations will end the presence of all Syria-linked groups in Arsal outskirts, paving the way for an offensive by the US-backed Lebanese army against Islamic State group militants from another area further north. Hizballah said it would join the battle from the Syrian side if needed.

Buses had arrived on the outskirts of Arsal Sunday evening after all logistical details were finalised. The rebels were allowed to leave with their "light weapons" - assualt rifles and hand guns - but were forced to leave behind heavy arms, said The Daily Star.

The already delayed deal to repatriate the rebel fighters and Syrian refugees was initially scheduled for Saturday but faced additional "logistical" hurdles over the weekend.

An agreement stipulating the fighters' return was made after Saraya Ahl al-Sham withdrew gunmen on the second day of Hizballah's July offensive against militants along the border between Lebanon and Syria.

Militants of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, formerly known as the Nusra Front and linked to al-Qaeda, departed from Lebanese territories on 2 August, in the third phase of a seperate cease-fire agreement struck between Hizballah and the group.

Syria's opposition has criticised previous evacuations of civilians under such deals as amounting to the forced transfer of populations.

According to The Daily Star, More than 1.5 million Syrian refugees are sheltering in Lebanon, about a third of its total population.

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