Lebanese policemen and Hezbollah fighters are seen as a Syrian man carries his bag near a bus in Jroud Arsal, Lebanon on August 2, 2017.
Lebanese policemen and Hezbollah fighters are seen as a Syrian man carries his bag near a bus in Jroud Arsal, Lebanon on August 2, 2017.

Buses carrying Syrian fighters and refugees left a Lebanese border area bound for a rebel-held part of Syria on Wednesday, under a deal made after the Hezbollah militia routed Jabhat Fateh al Sham (JFS) fighters in their last foothold at the frontier.

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

The ceasefire took effect last week, just days after the largely Shia Lebanese group Hezbollah and the Syrian regime forces launched an offensive to drive the armed Sunni outfit JFS (formerly the Nusra Front) and other militants from their last foothold along the Syria-Lebanon border.

Hezbollah's Al Manar television said that 113 buses had begun leaving Arsal town, headed for Fleita on the Syrian side.

At least 26 buses earlier left refugee camps in the nearby Jroud Arsal area and crossed to Wadi Hmeid further northeast in the direction of the Syrian frontier, it said, before heading onward to Idlib.

Safety issues in Arsal

Some residents of Arsal said that most refugees originally fled to Arsal when the Syrian regime, backed by Hezbollah, took control of their towns across the border during heavy fighting over three years ago.

They said they were going to Idlib with many refugees feeling no longer safe to stay in Arsal camps after Hezbollah extended greater influence in the area.

The UN refugee body said in a statement that it was not a party to the agreement and stressed that the "return of refugees should be made free from undue pressure."

The deal included the release of eight Hezbollah fighters in exchange for individuals held by Lebanon.

At least three of the Hezbollah fighters were released overnight. The remaining five are expected to be released once the first convoy reaches its destination in Syria.

Hezbollah fighters are seen escorting buses in Jroud Arsal, Lebanon on August 2, 2017 (Reuters)
Hezbollah fighters are seen escorting buses in Jroud Arsal, Lebanon on August 2, 2017 (Reuters)

Hezbollah's presence

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

It also has a strong presence on the Syrian side of the border where its fighters alongside pro-regime militias maintain security in a string of Syrian towns and villages in the areas known as Western Qalamoun.

Arsal region witnessed one of the most serious spillovers of the Syrian civil war into Lebanon when JFS and Daesh militants briefly overran the town of Arsal in 2014, abducting dozens of Lebanese soldiers and policemen.

Daesh is still holding nine Lebanese soldiers captured at that time. Their fate is unknown.

Source: Reuters