Europe

Syrian deal to evacuate tens of thousands of people begins

  • Graphic locates the Syrian towns involved in a population swap; 3c x 3 inches; 146 mm x 76 mm;

    Graphic locates the Syrian towns involved in a population swap; 3c x 3 inches; 146 mm x 76 mm;  (The Associated Press)

  • This frame grab from video provided by the government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media, shows Syrian citizens gather to in buses as they leave from Madaya an opposition-held town near Damascus, Syria, Friday, April 14, 2017. The Syrian government and rebels began a coordinated population transfer Friday of about 10,000 people from four towns besieged for years amid the country's bloody, six-year civil war. (Syrian Central Military Media, via AP)

    This frame grab from video provided by the government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media, shows Syrian citizens gather to in buses as they leave from Madaya an opposition-held town near Damascus, Syria, Friday, April 14, 2017. The Syrian government and rebels began a coordinated population transfer Friday of about 10,000 people from four towns besieged for years amid the country's bloody, six-year civil war. (Syrian Central Military Media, via AP)  (The Associated Press)

  • This frame grab from video provided by the government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media, shows a Syrian soldier passes in front of buses that carrying Syrian rebels and their families from Madaya an opposition-held town near Damascus, Syria, Friday, April 14, 2017. The Syrian government and rebels began a coordinated population transfer Friday of about 10,000 people from four towns besieged for years amid the country's bloody, six-year civil war. (Syrian Central Military Media, via AP)

    This frame grab from video provided by the government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media, shows a Syrian soldier passes in front of buses that carrying Syrian rebels and their families from Madaya an opposition-held town near Damascus, Syria, Friday, April 14, 2017. The Syrian government and rebels began a coordinated population transfer Friday of about 10,000 people from four towns besieged for years amid the country's bloody, six-year civil war. (Syrian Central Military Media, via AP)  (The Associated Press)

The Syrian government and the opposition have begun a coordinated population swap of tens of thousands of people from four besieged towns.

Activists including the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said buses carrying rebels began leaving the rebel-held towns Madaya and Zabadani near Damascus on Friday morning in the first phase of the deal, which will also see the evacuation of residents from two pro-government Shiite villages in northern Syria.

Dozens of buses entered the areas Wednesday but by late Thursday people had not boarded them, according to opposition activists in the rebel-held towns.

If the evacuations are completed, they would be the first in number of rounds stretching over two months to evacuate some 30,000 Syrians from besieged areas, in a deal struck by rebels and the government.