Saturday, 15 December 2018 | News today: 1

Syrian media: 2 besieged pro-government villages evacuated

epa06621861 Syrian soldiers look on as people sitting inside a government chartered bus said to carry fighters and their families from the rebel-held Harasta City in the Eastern Ghouta in the countryside of Damascus, pass by on the way to bring them to the northwestern city of Idlib, near Damsacus, Syria, 22 March 2018. According to media reports a total of 27 buses carrying the first batch of people from Harasta City left with 1,580 persons, including 413 fighters, on board. The agreement of the evacuation which was announced on 21 March reportedly was brokered by Russia.  EPA-EFE/YOUSSEF BADAWI

Over 7,000 people from two Syrian pro-government villages in the country’s northwest that were besieged by the rebels for three years have been evacuated, Syria’s state-run media reported Thursday, AP reports.

The emptying-out of villages of Foua and Kfarya under a deal negotiated between government forces and the rebels over the past few months marks one of the largest population transfers in Syria’s civil war.

In exchange, the Syrian government is expected to release a number of detained insurgents.

Al-Ikhbariya TV said all buses carrying residents of Foua and Kfarya had left the northern countryside of Idlib and that there were no more civilians there.

The evacuation of the villages was used as a negotiating chip in earlier population transfers along conflict lines. The United Nations was not part of the negotiations and has criticized such transfers as forced displacement.

An agreement to evacuate Foua and Kfarya last year halted after a car bombing killed over 100 people at a parking lot for buses meant to bring the evacuees out.

Shortly after leaving, more than 19 buses carrying the villagers Thursday arrived at the al-Eiss crossing in the countryside of Aleppo, while more than 51 buses arrived at a makeshift center for displaced people in Jibreen, Al-Ikhbariya said.

The buses had traveled through rebel-held territory to arrive there.

Evacuation deals and population transfers have been a fixture in the seven-year Syrian conflict and has seen tens of thousands of rebels and civilians transported from rebel-held areas to the northern province of Idlib and surrounding opposition-held territory amid advances by President Bashar Assad’s forces.