August 3, 2017 / 11:50 AM / 17 days ago

Refugees from Lebanon camps arrive at edge of Syrian rebel zone

Buses are seen driving through Fleita, Syria August 2, 2017. Picture taken August 2, 2017.Omar Sanadiki

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Buses carrying Syrians who left Lebanon after a ceasefire between Hezbollah and Nusra militants on Thursday started crossing into the rebel-held zone where they will settle, a Hezbollah military media unit reported.

About 7,000 Syrians, including Nusra militants and refugees, left the Arsal district on the border between Lebanon and Syria as part of a ceasefire deal that also involves the handover of captured Hezbollah fighters.

A convoy of more than 100 buses arrived on Thursday at Saan in Hama province, where they began to cross frontlines from government territory, the Hezbollah media unit said. The buses left Arsal on Wednesday evening.

The first of five Hezbollah captives due to be released in the deal crossed into government territory at the same place, the Hezbollah-affiliated al-Manar television reported.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported that the convoy had arrived in the Hama countryside and that preparations had begun to transfer them to rebel territory.

Hezbollah is an important ally of the Syrian government in the war against rebel groups that include the Nusra Front.

The ceasefire took effect last week, just days after Shi'ite Hezbollah and the Syrian army launched an offensive to drive Nusra Front and other Sunni militants from their last foothold in the border area between Lebanon and Syria.

Hezbollah fighters on Thursday moved into the areas that Nusra abandoned under the ceasefire, the media unit said.

The transfer of militants along with large numbers of refugees has echoed deals struck within Syria in which Damascus has shuttled rebels and civilians to Idlib and other opposition areas.

Such evacuations have helped President Bashar al-Assad recapture several rebel bastions over the past year and are criticized by the opposition as amounting to the forced transfer of populations seen as sympathetic to the opposition.

Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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