More than 10,000 Syrians in Lebanon border area set to return

:: More than 10,000 displaced Syrians in Lebanon’s mountainous border areas have registered their names to return home, following a local cease-fire between Hezbollah and militants.

Double that number is expected to eventually leave the areas around the town of Arsal, a local relief association said, with convoys expected to head back to Syria.

The majority of those leaving are expected to be civilians, but their number will also include fighters, some of whom are wanted by the Lebanese army.

Militants from Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham (JFS), which was formerly known as Al-Nusra Front and was linked to Al-Qaeda, had earlier battled with Hezbollah in the barren and mountainous area.

Hussam Al-Ghali, general coordinator for the Union of Relief and Development Associations in Lebanon, told Arab News that JFS representatives went into the camps in Arsal after the cease-fire agreement, to register the names of families wanting to join convoys heading to Idlib in Syria.

Al-Ghali expects the total number of those registering to leave to reach 20,000.

An official in Arsal’s municipality told Arab News that “the itinerary of the convoys will vary, depending on the areas that the displaced are heading to.”

The convoys are expected to take different routes.

“The Saraya Ahl Al-Sham fighters, the majority of (whom were) in the Free Syrian Army … will follow the (route) of Arsal, Flita, Qalamoun,” the Arsal municipality official said.

The JFS militants and their families are expected to head toward Idlib, he added.

“The convoys will be under the responsibility of the Syrian regime forces and the Red Cross,” the official said.

He added that a number of Arsal residents who have registered their names have started selling their items, including refrigerators, washing machines, cars and furniture.

“The JFS is trying to convince the largest number of displaced people to join the convoys, in order to ensure the safety of the convoy, as most of the people will be civilians,” Al-Ghali said.

“Some people want to go to Idlib to reunite with their relatives; there are people who will go with the convoy and do not belong to JFS, so they are afraid to be counted as JFS members later on.”

An official in one of Arsal’s camps expected the convoys to start moving as of Sunday.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah media reported that three of its militiamen got lost in the barren and mountainous region, while Lebanese media reported that the JFS took them hostage. Hezbollah neither denied nor confirmed this.

Lebanese security sources confirmed that the JFS still has control posts in the area, and will only leave the locations after the complete implementation of the cease-fire.

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