Syrian refugees and fighters return home from Lebanon

Syrian refugees Lebanon border

Beirut- Thousands of Syrian civilians and Nusra Front militants and their families gathered on Wednesday in buses meant to transport them to the north of Syria, in implementation of the second phase of a deal between Nusra and the Lebanese Hezbollah, which aims to evacuate the area of Jroud Arsal of 1,160 armed men and 6,661 refugees.

Some 7,000 Syrians including 1,000 militants, their families and refugees are to leave the Lebanese town of Arsal and the surrounding border area and head for Syria's northwestern Idlib province under the deal, Hezbollah-run media outlets said.

The announcement comes days after Hezbollah and the Syrian army launched an offensive to drive out militants from their last stronghold in the border area between the two countries.

The operation has highlighted the major role of Hezbollah in fighting militants along the frontier during Syria's six-year war, part of the much bigger role it has played across Syria in support of Assad.

Aid agencies with limited access to Arsal were not able to say where numerous Syrian refugees living in the area had originally come from.

Thousands of Syrians had taken refuge and were living in camps in Jaroud Arasal region.

"In the event of the hegemony of Nusra Front on Idlib, it would be hard for the United States to convince the global parties not to take the necessary military measures", the diplomat said, referring to al-Qaida's former affiliate in Syria (the group also known as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham).

The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, said in a statement that it is not part of the agreement that led to the latest evacuations.

At least three of the Hezbollah fighters were released overnight.

In exchange, the jihadist group released two Hezbollah fighters, an AFP correspondent said, adding that they arrived in Red Crescent vehicles in the area of Al-Saan in central Hama province.

Last week, Hezbollah captured most of the mountainous zone of Jroud Arsal from the militants.

In recent weeks, Hezbollah says it has regained control of around 95% of the area, culminating in the ceasefire deal, which was agreed last week. Also, the internal feud between Ahrar-al-Sham, Jabhat's rival group, installed a new group leader Hassan Soufan following the loss of territory in Idlib to Jabhat led Tahrir-al-Sham coalition.

He added that the battle, which started on July 21, took an important turn in favor of Hezbollah and the Syrian army, when both forces captured the Kirra hilltop in Fleita, which exposes the Nusra positions on the Syrian-Lebanese border region.

Buses are seen driving through Fleita, Syria August 2, 2017.

After the town was taken back over by soldiers, Lebanese allies took journalists on a tour through the area showing them supply stockpiles and military equipment left behind by Islamic militants.

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