BEIRUT: Buses transporting Abou Malek Al-Talli and 7,800 Syrian refugees, including militants and their families, left the outskirts of Arsal Wednesday morning heading towards Syria's Flita, in the second phase of a cease-fire deal between Hezbollah and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, state media reported.
Fighters of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, formerly known as the Nusra Front, are among those being transported, according to the state-run National News Agency. Talli, the Jabhat Fatah al-Sham commander in Lebanon, is among the passengers.
Lebanon's General Security, the Lebanese Army, the International Red Cross and other international organizations are supervising the process.
This step comes after the implementation of part of the cease-fire deal exchange in which three Jabhat Fatah al-Sham prisoners held in Lebanon’s Roumieh Prison were exchanged early Wednesday for three Hezbollah fighters captured in the recent battles near Arsal, according to Hezbollah's War Media Center.
3 Nusra prisoners swapped for Hezbollah captives near Arsal
BEIRUT: Three Jabhat Fatah al-Sham prisoners held in Lebanon’s Roumieh Prison were exchanged early Wednesday for three Hezbollah fighters captured in the recent battles near Arsal, Hezbollah's War Media Center reported.
"Tomorrow the convoy [of militants and families] leaves and the nightmare ends," General Security head Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, who negotiated and oversaw the handover, told crowds that gathered in the Bekaa Valley town of Labweh to welcome the freed Hezbollah fighters.
He added that Prime Minister Saad Hariri told him to "complete the job."
A security source told The Daily Star late Tuesday evening that the three prisoners were transported by the Lebanese Red Cross to Wadi Hmayyed near northeast Lebanon’s Arsal. The source added that a deal to release the prisoners in exchange for three Hezbollah fighters captured during the recent offensive near Arsal would go ahead overnight.
A little after midnight Wednesday morning, Hezbollah's War Media Center reported that the exchange had taken place and the Hezbollah fighters were handed over to Ibrahim and were taken to the nearby Labweh.
A deal to allow around 9,000 Jabhat Fatah al-Sham - formerly known as the Nusra Front - fighters and their families to leave for Syria’s Idlib was held up again Tuesday as the militant group demanded the release of a number of militants for the deal to go ahead.
The War Media Center added that with the first exchange of prisoners completed, the return of nearly the fighters and families from Arsal's Wadi Hmayyed would begin early Wednesday morning.
The development comes after an intense day of negotiations, led by Ibrahim, to facilitate to deal.
Hezbollah launched an offensive on Jabhat Fatah al-Sham in the outskirts of Arsal and Syria’s Flita near the border in the early hours of July 21. The nearly week long battle saw Hezbollah squeeze the militants into a small area near Arsal that is home to nearly 10,000 Syrian refugees.
Ibrahim brokered a ceasefire deal on July 27 and began talks for the fighters and their families to leave for Syria. However, several holdups have thus far prevented the deal being implemented – including the challenge of transporting the larger than expected number of those wanting to leave.
The deal stipulates that once the civilians and fighters reach Syria’s Aleppo the five remaining Hezbollah fighters would be released.