Syrian evacuation under way at Lebanon-Syria border

9000 Syrians, including jihadists, cross from Lebanon to Syria in ceasefire deal

Fighters, families and refugees head to Idlib in bus convoy following deal between Hezbollah and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.

The evacuation deal followed a military offensive by Hezbollah fighters and Syrian troops during which they captured border areas between the two countries and left hundreds of al-Qaida fighters besieged in a small rugged mountainous area.

Hezbollah combatants have been fighting along Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces since 2013, and the Iran-backed group is still deeply involved in Syria's civil war, now in its seventh year.

HTS took control of most of Idlib province in mid-July.

Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees are expected to stay in Lebanon's eastern border region for the near future, as a multilateral effort to resettle several thousand of them ran into further delays on Tuesday. Hezbollah handed over the bodies of nine al-Qaida-linked fighters in exchange for the bodies of five of its own.

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

"The Nusra Front was defeated in Lebanon", Hezbollah's al-Manar television announced in the Lebanese capital, using an old name for al-Qaida's affiliate in Syria.

Eight of its fighters were being held by Nusra in Arsal, of whom three were freed on Wednesday and more on Thursday.

Hezbollah chief, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, said last week that the liberation of the border region, known for its harsh geographical features, by Hezbollah forces and their allies in the Lebanese and Syrian armies was indeed a great achievement.

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. 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.

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The Lebanese army, which receives considerable United States and British military support, did not take an active part in the operation, setting up defensive positions around Arsal.

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.

Hizbullah has argued that efforts to topple the Syrian government destabilise Lebanon and has fought on Damascus's side since 2012.

Hezbollah, together with the Lebanese army, has waged a military campaign to recapture the territory.

A Syrian soldier takes position in the Syrian barren region of Fleita in western Syria near Lebanon as preparations were underway to transfer al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front militants on August 2, 2017.

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