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1,500 Syria regime detainees, including children, freed in opposition deal

Syrians walk to get on a bus with their belongings as the evacuation of civilians from Syrian villages begins on 19 July 2018 [Ahmed Rahhal/Anadolu Agency]
Syrians walk to get on a bus with their belongings during the evacuation of civilians from Syrian villages [Ahmed Rahhal/Anadolu Agency]

Over 1,500 prisoners held by the Syrian regime of President Bashar Al-Assad have been freed in an evacuation deal with opposition groups in the northern province of Idlib, according to Syrian news agency Zaman Al-Wasl.

The detainees, which included 126 women and 75 children, were released this week in return for the safe evacuation of 6,000 fighters and their families from a pro-regime pocket surrounded by opposition-held territory.

The deal for the two villages of Al-Foua and Kefraya was negotiated by officials from the Hayaat Tahrir Al-Shaam (HTS) faction and Iran's Revolutionary Guard, which have bolstered Assad's forces in the country.

Documents detailing the freed prisoners record the arrest of several children aged between 12 and 18 years old, with pictures of some of the released detainees showing children even younger. Many of the prisoners were also elderly, with the documents noting that some were approaching 70 years old.

Read: Syria offensive leaves 55,000 children without aid

Some 150 of the prisoners had been detained since 2011, whilst the others were arrested more recently as part of the Syrian regime's ongoing policy of imprisoning activists and those vocal against the government.

Prisoners of the Assad regime are known to regularly undergo torture, with at least 232 people tortured to death in 2017. The UN has also condemned the systematic use of rape as a weapon of war, for both male and female detainees, such that its endemic use constitutes a war crime and a crime against humanity.

Last month, 16 Syrian men and women who survived torture under Al-Assad filed a criminal complaint in Austria against 24 senior officials in the government for their involvement. Aided by European NGOs, the allegations include dozens of forms of torture, including psychological abuse, sleep deprivation, being hung from the wrists and beaten, sexual abuse, having finger nails and facial hair forcibly removed, as well as being burned by cigarettes and electric shocks.

The evacuation of the regime fighters and their families to government-held territory ended yesterday, as the last batch of buses carrying them passed through the Al-Eis crossing south of Aleppo. HTS announced that the two towns were military zones and that no one could enter the area until it had been checked for landmines.

Read: Assad forces bomb school in Quneitra; 10 killed

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