Beirut- Thousands of Syrian civilians and Nusra Front militants and their families gathered on Wednesday in buses intended to transport them to the north of Syria, in implementation of the second phase of a deal between Nusra and the Lebanese Hezbollah, which aims to evacuate the area of Jroud Arsal of 1,160 armed men and 6,661 refugees.
However, hundreds of Syrian civilians decided at the last moment not to board buses, fearing the high prices and deteriorating security in Idlib.
The National News Agency (NNA) reported that a convoy of 113 busses carrying Nusra Front militants and their families had crossed Wadi Hamid towards the Syrian territories on Wednesday.
Twenty ambulances escorted the convoy, amidst measures by the army, General Security and the Lebanese Red Cross.
Well-informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that around five thousand militants and civilians have departed from Arsal on Wednesday, heading towards northern Syria through the region of Flita.
The sources added that many civilians, who had registered on the lists of those wishing to leave, “have stepped back at the last minute fearing the high cost of living, scarcity of jobs and security threats in the Syrian province.
Thus, all Nusra militants left the area with their families, while a number of civilians chose to stay in Arsal.
Hezbollah’s military media said on Wednesday that 7,277 people have departed to the north of Syria. Those were living in two separate areas, one of which was under the control of the Lebanese Army.
The head of Lebanon’s General Security, Major General Abbas Ibrahim, has supervised late Tuesday a swap deal, which saw the release of three Hezbollah prisoners in exchange for three Nusra militants detained by the Lebanese security forces.
The next phase would allow militants and civilians to leave for the town of Al-Rahiba in eastern Qalamoun, while the third phase of evacuation will include civilians wishing to return to their villages in western Qalamoun.
The NNA correspondent reported that Nusra militants have burnt the sites they used to occupy on the outskirts of Arsal.
In earlier remarks to Reuters, Ibrahim said 120 militants carrying personal weapons would be among the thousands of Syrians set to leave for Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province on Wednesday.
He added that Lebanese authorities had received the three Hezbollah fighters and had handed over three individuals detained in Lebanon requested by the Nusra Front just before 1 am Beirut time.