April 14 (UPI) -- The Syrian regime and rebel groups have begun busing thousands of people out of four besieged towns as part of an evacuation agreement between warring sides.
More than 30,000 people are expected to be moved in the efforts that began Thursday. In the first phase of the deal, about 8,000 people under siege in the government-held northwestern towns of Foah and Kefraya will be bused out, while about 3,400 people living in two rebel-held towns near Damascus, Madaya and Zabadani, will also be given safe passage.
Those living in Foah and Kefraya are being bused to government-held areas near Aleppo. Those in rebel-held Madaya are being bused to rebel-held areas in Syria's Idlib province. It is not yet clear if those in Zabadani will also be taken to the Idlib province.
The Syrian Red Crescent humanitarian group is involved in the efforts to evacuate people out of the besieged towns.
The deal between the regime and rebels was mediated by Iran and Qatar and agreed upon in late March. If the agreement is followed, the evacuations would end years of siege, sniping and bombardment in all four towns.
"Yesterday, there was deep sorrow, everyone said their goodbyes," Hussam Mahmoud, an activist and former member of the United Relief Organization in Madaya and Zabadani told Syria Direct on Thursday. "Today, people are waiting around with their suitcases near the buses, afraid the exit could be delayed again."