The 10 buses said to be carrying 452 passengers to Syria's rebel-held territories in the northwestern Idlib and Aleppo provinces is the fourth convoy to have left Daraa since the southwestern province was overrun by regime forces in June.
A fourth convoy carrying opposition fighters and civilians from Syria’s southwestern Daraa province arrived in opposition-held parts of Idlib and Aleppo in the country’s north on Saturday.
The 10-bus convoy is reportedly carrying some 452 passengers, according to an Anadolu Agency correspondent based in the region.
With the new arrivals, at least 3,300 people have been evacuated from Daraa to Idlib and Aleppo’s western countryside in recent days.
On June 20, the Syrian regime - with Russian air support - launched a major military operation in Daraa, allowing it and its allies to establish control over most of Syria’s border with Jordan.
The fighting led to a major displacement crisis, with an estimated 350,000 civilians fleeing Daraa towards areas near the border.
Following peace talks brokered by Turkey, Russia and Iran last year in the Kazakh capital Astana, Daraa was designated a “de-escalation zone” in which acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.
Syrian Turkmens anxious
The Assad regime and its supporters have also been attacking, or preparing to attack, areas that fall within the network of de-escalation zones in Latakia, Idlib and Aleppo, including Turkmen Mountain in Syria’s northwestern coastal Latakia province.
The strategic mountain lies on the frontline of the opposition stronghold of Idlib and immediately south of Turkey's border province of Hatay.
Turkmen Mountain, home to Syria’s ethnic Turkmen minority, is also known by the name of Bayirbucak.
Following a routine meeting of the Syrian Turkmen Congress in the Turkish capital of Ankara on Saturday, Turkmen representatives released a written statement in which they said developments in the region continue to be a cause of “increasing anxiety.”
“This offensive not only threatens the 1,000-year existence of Turkmens in the area, but also Turkey’s border security as well as security in the Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch areas,” the statement said, referring to two operations led by the Turkish Armed Forces the clear Turkey’s borders of hostile elements, namely Daesh and the PKK-linked YPG militant groups.
Syrian regime forces already control around 85 percent of the Turkmen Mountain region, having advanced with the help of Russian air support in 2015. The assault forced some 20,000 Turkmen and Arab residents of the region to flee to Turkey as refugees.
The villages of Shamruran, Kellaz, Isa Binar, Sallur, Yamamah and Qaramanli remain under opposition control. The opposition also controls the farmlands of Zaytunjiq, Qlaba and Cip Toros.
Regime prepares Idlib assault
Meanwhile, Syrian regime forces fighting rebels in Idlib province have sent more reinforcements ahead of a potential offensive on the last major rebel stronghold in Syria.
The pro-regime Al Watan daily said on Sunday that huge military reinforcements have reached the outskirts of Idlib province as a preliminary step to launch a wide-scale offensive.
Quoting regime sources, the paper said that regime forces have reached the northern countryside of the neighbouring Hama province as part of military preparations to recapture Idlib province.
The paper said that the battle would be "comprehensive" starting from Hama's northern countryside to the southern countryside of Aleppo, adding that the target of the battle is to seize Idlib City.
Regime airstrikes on the province on Friday killed dozens.
Pro-regime activists said on social media that the elite Tiger Force, led by Brig. Gen. Suheil al Hassan, arrived in northern Syria to spearhead what they called the "Dawn of Idlib" operation.