Hezbollah, ex-Al Qaeda affiliate begin prisoner swap

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Beirut, Aug 2 (IANS) An exchange of prisoners between the Lebanese Shia Hezbollah movement and former Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fateh al-Sham began on Wednesday as part of an agreement to end hostilities in the region of Arsal, bordering Syria.

According to the Shia group information centre, three militants from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham were released in Roumieh Prison in exchange for three Hezbollah men, who were captured during the battles in Arsal in the past two weeks, Efe news reported.

The exchange, mediated by General Security head Major General Abbas Ibrahim, was originally scheduled for Monday but was postponed for logistical reasons and further negotiations between the two sides.

The three militants were taken from the outskirts of Arsal to be transported soon to the Syrian province of Idlib, a region controlled mostly by Islamist and opposition factions.

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Another swap of five prisoners is scheduled to be held between Hezbollah and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham in the Syrian city of Aleppo, according to the report.

The agreement between both sides included the exchange of bodies of dead fighters and evacuating the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham extremists from Lebanon to Syria.

Since Monday, buses have been arriving in Arsal, which is expected to evacuate about 9,000 members of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, which was Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria until it cut ties and rebranded in 2016.

The Shia group launched an offensive two weeks ago to expel the radicals from the territory they controlled in northeastern Lebanon and managed to recover most of the area after days of intense fighting.

Hezbollah announced a ceasefire in the area last week and since then negotiations had been launched to evacuate the radical fighters and their families to the Syrian province of Idlib.

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