The transfer of the Shi’ite populations of two Syrian towns, in exchange for moving Sunni rebels and civilians out of two others, has started, under an evacuation deal between warring parties, an AFP correspondent and a local source said.

An AFP correspondent in rebel-held Rashidin, west of Aleppo city, said at least 80 buses arrived in the region from government-held Fuaa and Kafraya in Idlib province. A rebel source in Idlib told AFP “the implementation of the deal started in the morning”.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) confirmed the beginning of the evacuation saying that buses carrying residents left the majority Shia towns of Fuaa and Kefraya, but had not yet crossed into government-held territory.

Madaya resident Amjad al-Maleh, who spoke to AFP on the phone from one of the buses leaving opposition-controlled Madaya and Zabadani at around 6:00 am (0300 GMT), said: “We just left now, around 2,200 persons in around 65 buses”.

Buses carrying mostly Sunni rebel fighters and their families simultaneously left the town of Madaya near Damascus, encircled by government forces and their allies, but were still passing through government-held areas, the Observatory said.

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