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Thousands of Militants Return to Syria From Lebanon

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Thousands of Militants Return to Syria From Lebanon

Six days of intense fighting in Lebanon's mountainous Jurud Arsal region led to an agreement between the two sides last week to exchange fighters' bodies and swap prisoners. Almost two months of fighting has left hundreds of people dead and wounded.

The government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media released video and photos of the buses and ambulances near the Lebanese border town of Arsal and the Syrian village of Fleeta preparing for the evacuations.

Hezbollah fighters stand on their army vehicle at the site where clashes erupted between Hezbollah and al-Qaida-linked fighters in Wadi al-Kheil or al-Kheil Valley in the Lebanon-Syria border, Saturday, July 29, 2017. It now leads the Sham Liberation Organisation in the Syrian war.

Three Hezbollah fighters were released on Wednesday morning by an al-Qaida affiliate in Syria, in return for the release of three al-Qaida fighters who were held in Lebanon.

The long line of buses drove through the partially paved mountain road between the two countries as Hezbollah fighters in beige uniforms and carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles watched them drive by. "Hezbollah outposts, flying yellow Hezbollah flags alongside those of Lebanon, are few and far between".

Some 7,000 Syrians including 1,000 militants, their families and refugees are to leave the Lebanese town of Arsal and the surrounding border area and head for Syria's northwestern Idlib province under the deal, Hezbollah-run media outlets said.

Buses carrying Syrians who left Lebanon after a ceasefire between Hezbollah and Nusra militants on Thursday started crossing into the rebel-held zone where they will settle, a Hezbollah military media unit reported.

At least three of the Hezbollah fighters were released overnight.

The large number of Syrians who chose to return home shows that some refugees prefer to head back to their war-torn country rather than stay in tent settlements in Lebanon.

On Monday, actor George Clooney and his wife Amal, with support from Google and HP Inc., announced a $3.25 million donation to help UNICEF and the Lebanese ministry of education provide schools for Syrian refugee children in Lebanon.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR said in a statement on Wednesday it was not involved in the deal or the return of fighters and their families.

The United Nations Human Rights Council has expressed reservations about the deal between Hezbollah and al-Qaeda, anxious that "conditions for refugees to return in safety and dignity are not yet in place".

In territory that Hezbollah's forces captured in northeastern Lebanon last week, "nowhere was there any evidence of the Lebanese state", correspondents for The Washington Post reported on Saturday.

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