Syria evacuations of besieged towns continue after two-day halt - monitor, state media


BEIRUT, April 21 (Reuters) - The evacuation of Syrian
civilians and fighters from four besieged towns, part of a swap
deal between the warring sides, resumed on Friday after a
48-hour halt, state media and a monitoring group said.
    Five buses carrying rebels and their relatives from towns
near the capital left a transit point outside Aleppo city where
they had been waiting to cross into rebel territory, the
state-owned news channel Ikhbariyah said.
    Meanwhile, ten busloads of people from the rebel-encircled
Shi'ite towns of al-Foua and Kefraya arrived in Aleppo city,
which is under government control, al-Ikhbariyah said.
    Thousands of evacuees from the two Shi'ite towns have been
stranded for two days at a second nearby staging area outside
Aleppo, where a bomb attack on an evacuation convoy last week
killed scores of people. [nL8N1HO04Y]
    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the 48-hour
suspension was due to rebel demands for the government to free
750 prisoners as part of the agreement.
    The Britain-based war monitor confirmed the resumption on
Friday morning of evacuations under the reciprocal deal, but
said it remained unclear if authorities had released the
    Under the deal, thousands of Sunni rebels and civilians have
been moved out of Zabadani and Madaya, which have long been
under siege by pro-government forces. They departed for
rebel-held Idlib, bringing the two towns near Damascus under
state control.
    In exchange, thousands of civilians and pro-government
fighters were moved out of al-Foua and Kefraya, besieged by
insurgent groups in Idlib in northwest Syria.
    On Saturday, a bomb blast hit a convoy carrying evacuees
from al-Foua and Kefraya killing at least 126 people, including
more than 60 children, who were waiting on Aleppo's outskirts.

 (Reporting by Ellen Francis; editing by Richard Lough)


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