Syrian refugees and fighters return home from Lebanon

9000 Syrians, including jihadists, cross from Lebanon to Syria in ceasefire deal

Lebanon's National News Agency reported that the released Hezbollah fighters had arrived in the Lebanese town of Al-Labweh and received a "festive welcome" including "fireworks, celebratory gunfire, and throwing rice".

The fighting ended with a cease-fire on July 27 for negotiations to allow refugees, fighters, and family members leave to Syria's northwest Idlib province and the central Qalamoun region.

JFS militants have also found shelter among the refugee camps around Arsal, home to tens of thousands of civilians who have fled the conflict.

Buses carrying Syrian fighters and refugees left a Lebanese border area bound for a rebel-held part of Syria on Wednesday, under a deal made after the Hezbollah militia routed Jabhat Fateh al Sham (JFS) fighters in their last foothold at the frontier.

The announcement comes days after Hezbollah and the Syrian army launched an offensive to drive out militants from their last stronghold in the border area between the two countries.

Such evacuations have helped President Bashar al-Assad recapture several rebel bastions over the past year and are criticized by the opposition as amounting to the forced transfer of populations seen as sympathetic to the opposition.

Under the deal, Syrian government will shuttle the militants and their families to Idlib Province and some other areas.

The withdrawal followed Hezbollah's recent gains in fighting against Syrian militants in Aarsal, a major arms and gunmen smuggling hub.

The source in Hezbollah told Xinhua the evacuation is expected to last until Thursday morning, adding that the entire operation will end on Thursday.

Khaled said the UNHCR has been trying to reach refugees in the border region of Arsal to determine whether returns were voluntary.

"The Nusra Front was defeated in Lebanon", Hezbollah's al-Manar television announced in the Lebanese capital, using an old name for al-Qaida's affiliate in Syria.

Iran-backed Hezbollah, which has lost hundreds of fighters in Syria, says its fight is an existential one to stop extremists spreading to Lebanon.

Michael Ratney, the top State Department official in charge of Syria policy, said in an online letter that the latest offensive by the Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham alliance (HTS) had put "the future of northern Syria in big danger".

Hizbullah has argued that efforts to topple the Syrian government destabilise Lebanon and has fought on Damascus's side since 2012.

A Sunni enclave surrounded by Shia villages, Arsal was the scene of an attack in 2014, when more than two dozen Lebanese security force members were seized by militants from the Nusra Front and IS who had crossed the border from Syria.

Daesh is still holding nine Lebanese soldiers captured at that time.

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