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Syrian rebels shell Shi’ite villages after truce evacuations, residents say

Fighters from "Jaish al Fatah" escort buses and Syrian Arab Red Crescent ambulances evacuating fighters and civilians from two besieged Shi'ite towns in Idlib, and heading towards the Syrian-Turkish border crossing of Bab al-Hawa, to cross to Turkey

Syrian rebels shelled two Shi’ite villages in the north-west of the country on Tuesday, killing at least one person, residents said, a day after pro-government fighters and civilians left the area for Turkey under a local ceasefire agreement.

Britain-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed insurgents had shelled near the two villages, al Foua and Kefraya in Idlib province, but gave no initial death toll.

The ceasefire, in place since a deal was struck in September, has been violated several times by both sides, but largely appears to be holding. Monday’s evacuations took place even after previous violations.

Under the UN-backed agreement more than 300 pro-government fighters and civilians in the two villages, which are surrounded by rebel-held territory, were evacuated to neighbouring Turkey on Monday. From there they flew to Beirut.

At the same time, more than 120 rebel fighters holed up in the town of Zabadani and surrounded by pro-Syrian government forces were allowed safe passage across the nearby border with Lebanon, and onto Beirut. They were flown to Turkey.

Both pro-government forces and rebels have previously violated the ceasefire around al Foua and Kefraya.

Air strikes believed to be carried out by Russian warplanes killed scores of people in Idlib city on Dec. 20. The ceasefire deal reached in September included a tacit understanding that Idlib also fell under the truce arrangements.

The United Nations and foreign governments have tried to broker local ceasefires and safe-passage agreements as steps towards the wider goal of ending Syria’s near five-year civil war, which has killed a quarter of a million people.

Iran, which backs President Bashar al-Assad, and Turkey, which backs the rebels, helped organise local ceasefires in Zabadani and the two villages in Idlib in September in the first phase of the deal overseen by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

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