A UN-backed ceasefire agreement was confirmed on Friday for two key areas of fighting in Syria which will allow thousands of Sunni and Shiite civilians as well as fighters to move from one location to another.
The agreement will stop fighting after several months between Syrian opposition fighters and forces loyal to the Syrian regime, including forces from Lebanese Hezbollah.
The ceasefire will allow members of Syrian opposition coalition group Jaish al Fatah, or Army of Conquest, and their families to safely transfer out of Zabadani area near the Lebanese border to rebel held areas in northern Syrian city of Idlib. Zabadani was one of last opposition strongholds in south Syria, but it has been sieged by the Syrian regime and Hezbollah forces for several months.
In exchange, approximetly 10,000 pro-regime fighters and civilians from villages of Fuaa and Kefraya in the rebel-controlled northern Idlib province will be relocated to regime held areas in Damascus.
In the past, short term ceasefires were implemented in both fronts to treat and transfer the wounded, but this will be one of the first significant diplomatic achievements in the Syrian civil war.
Lebanese Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said on Hezbollah's Al Manar TV, that the deal will not coerce civilians to relocate but that civilians who want to leave Zabadani, along with fighters are free to exercise what they want. He added that the deal allows for humanitarian aid as well as goods be taken to those left behind.
A UN spokeswoman Jessy Chahine said on Friday that the UN mediated between different parties, but would not go into detail.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said Turkey and Iran played mediating roles to reach the six-month ceasefire agreement which would also include the release of rebel detainees.
Battle for Zabadani
The city of Zabadani, over which Assad forces have long sought to gain control, is located near the Beirut-Damascus highway that connects both countries. Capturing it would be a major boost for Assad’s withering government.
Zabadani, 20 kilometres north of Syria’s capital Damascus, was captured by rebels in early 2012 and was once a bastion for the rebels. It has been besieged for more than a year by regime forces.
Regime forces backed by Hezbollah militants began a major campaign to take back the region in late 2013. In April 2014 the campaign gained momentum and regime forces were able to capture the ancient Christian town of Maalula.
On June 6, Syrian state media announced the start of an operation to retake the town by the Syrian army.
Capturing it would be a major boost for Assad’s withering government.
Zabadani, once a popular resort city, was part of a major supply route for weapons that were sent from Syria to Hezbollah militants before the outbreak of the Syrian conflict in 2011.
In recent months, the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah militants increased its assaults on opposition outposts along the Qalamoun mountains region sprawling along the Lebanese-Syrian border in an effort to force opposition fighters to take a deal that would make them leave Zabadani without their weapons, reported the Asharq al Awsat newspaper.
Hezbollah is a prominent ally of the Syrian regime and has sent fighters to support regime forces against the uprising that began in March 2011.
Opposition fighters capture Idlib
Idlib city, was one of the last Syrian regime strongholds. Months ago After capturing the city, the Opposition alliance continued achieving to capture lands from the regime in the northwest of the country.
The province of Idlib has got a strategic position. It is near the highway that links Aleppo to Damascus the capital and to Latakia province, the stronghold of Syrian President Bashar al Assad and his allies.
The war in Syria started in 2011 in the form of anti-government demonstrations, but descended into a civil war between five main factions - the regime, the opposition, Al Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front, ISIS, and the Kurdish YPG militants.
Over four years of fighting has left over 230,000 Syrians dead, according to UN estimates.
More than 6.7 million are displaced internally while at least 5 million have fled the country to the neighbouring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan.