BEIRUT (AP) — Hundreds of Syrian rebels and civilians started leaving the Lebanon-Syria border area Monday after a deal was reached for their departure following days of delay, the media arm of Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group said.
In Beirut, meanwhile, the United State handed over to the Lebanese army eight Bradley Fighting Vehicles, part of a total of 32 that will be delivered over the coming months. The military aid is aimed at helping Lebanon combat extremist groups and prevent further spillover from neighboring Syria.
At the border, buses carrying members of the Levant People's Brigades rebel group started moving from the Lebanese border town of Arsal in the direction of the Syrian village of Fleeta.
The evacuation comes nearly two weeks after more than 7,000 Syrians, many of them al-Qaida-linked fighters and their families, left Arsal following a Hezbollah offensive.
The Levant People's Brigades, whose members did not take part in last month's battles, will be heading to the Syrian town of Ruhaiba, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) northeast of the Syrian capital, Damascus, where they will return to normal life following an amnesty by the state, according to Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV.
Rebels and government fighters have lived alongside each other in Ruhaiba without fighting for more than a year following a local de-escalation agreement.
Hezbollah's Military Media said that by Monday afternoon, some 1,500 fighters and civilians had left toward Ruhaiba. Another 300 are scheduled to leave later in the day bound for their government-held hometowns in the western parts of the Qalamoun region, near the border with Lebanon.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said about 2,000 in total should enter Syria by the end of the day.
The only insurgents remaining on Lebanon's side of the border now are members of the Islamic State group. Hundreds of IS fighters control a stretch of land that is almost equally split between Lebanon and Syria.
The Lebanese army has been preparing an attack for weeks, sending in reinforcements and pounding the area with artillery shells and rockets. The Syrian army and Hezbollah are preparing for a simultaneous attack on the Syrian side of the border.
At the Bradley handover ceremony at Beirut's port, U.S. Ambassador Elizabeth Richard said the vehicles represent an investment of over $100 million that will "provide the Lebanese Armed Forces with new capabilities to protect Lebanon, to protect its borders and to fight terrorists."
The U.S. has supplied the Lebanese military with Cessna aircraft armed with Hellfire missiles, as well as helicopters, anti-tank missiles, artillery and radar, along with training. The American Embassy says the U.S. has provided Lebanon with over $1.4 billion in security assistance since 2005.