Rebels and pro-government forces swapped prisoners and detainees on Wednesday, as part of a major evacuation deal reached under the mediation of Qatar and Iran, well-informed sources told Xinhua.

The rebels in the northwestern province of Idlib released four children and eight women they kidnapped from the Shiite towns of Kafraya and Foa, and returned the bodies of eight government forces in exchange of the release of 19 rebels detained by the pro-government fighters in Kafraya and Foa.

The low-scale swap took place through the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC).

The deal, reached late last month, should see the evacuation of rebels and their families from the besieged towns of Madaya and Zabadani, which are under the rebel control northwest of capital Damascus, as well as the two Shiite towns of Kafraya and Foa, both pro-government towns besieged by the rebels in the northwestern province of Idlib.

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Madaya and Zabdani are two towns under the rebel groups’ control near the Lebanese borders. The government besieged the towns two years ago, allowing few aid convoys to enter under the supervision of humanitarian organizations in coordination with the SARC.

In the north, Kafraya and Foa are two Shiite towns besieged by the rebels in Idlib, which has largely fallen to the rebel control, mainly the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front.

According to the deal, around 3,800 rebels and their families should leave the towns of Madaya, Zabadani and nearby towns on Wednesday toward Idlib, the source told Xinhua, adding that the rebels in Idlib will allow 8,000 people from the two Shiite towns to leave.

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The deal went into force near midnight Wednesday, but some delays happened as the rebels in Idlib fired on the SARC busses near Kafraya and Foa, the source said.

The source said 92 busses are now ready at the entrance of Zabadani and Madaya waiting for the evacuation.

Several previous deals saw the evacuation of people from Kafraya and Foa, as well as Zabadani and Madaya, but the current deal seems a comprehensive one that will see a large-scale evacuations from all the peoples in the four towns.

The UN has repeatedly warned for the dire situation in those towns, and the lack of humanitarian access to around 60,000 affected people in the four towns. Enditem

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Source: Xinhua/