Convoys of buses are waiting to transfer thousands of Syrian fighters and refugees from Lebanon’s border region into rebel territory in Syria in exchange for Hezbollah prisoners.
Under a local ceasefire between the opposition fighters and Hezbollah, about 9,000 fighters and their relatives were to leave on Monday, in exchange for eight Hezbollah fighters held by the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as the al-Nusra Front.
The first step of the ceasefire, brokered by Lebanon’s internal security agency, unfolded on Sunday as the two sides exchanged the bodies of dead fighters.
The deal includes the departure of all Jabhat Fateh al-Sham fighters from Lebanon’s border region around the town of Arsal, along with any civilians in nearby refugee camps who wish to go.
Lebanon’s Hezbollah has played a major role in fighting rebels along the frontier during Syria’s six-year war, sending thousands of combatants to support Assad’s government.
Last week, Hezbollah took most of the mountainous zone of Juroud Arsal in a joint offensive with the Syrian army to drive Jabhat Fateh al-Sham fighters from their last border foothold.
The Lebanese army, which receives considerable US and British military support, did not take an active part in the operation, setting up defensive positions around Arsal.
The next phase is expected to target a nearby enclave currently in the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group
Nearly 1.5 million refugees have poured into Lebanon and they now make up around a quarter of the country’s population.