ARSAL, Lebanon (Reuters) – A convoy of refugees began leaving the Lebanese border region for Syria on Wednesday, a security source said, the second group to return under an agreement brokered by the Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah.
The Lebanese army escorted around 250 people out of the border town of Arsal. The refugees headed for the Syrian town of Asal al-Ward across the border, northeast of Damascus.
A military media unit run by Damascus ally Hezbollah said the buses carried 60 families. An estimated 60,000 refugees are in Arsal.
It was the second batch of people to leave for their hometown across the border Arsal under the agreement, which Hezbollah arranged in indirect talks with the Syrian rebel group Saraya Ahl al-Sham, said an official in the alliance fighting in support of the Damascus government.
Hezbollah also coordinated with the Lebanese military and with the Syrian government separately, securing crossings for refugees who want to leave, the official said.
Several refugees told a Reuters photographer before a checkpoint manned by Hezbollah fighters they were eager to go back to their hometown after several years in squalid, makeshift camps in the border town of Arsal.
“It’s been three years and we haven’t seen our families and relatives, said Abeer Mahmoud al Haj, in a van with her family members around her. “May God return everyone to his country, there is no better than Syria,”
Since early in the Syrian conflict, Hezbollah has backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, along with Iran and Russia, sending thousands of men to fight the mostly Sunni Syrian rebels.
The U.N. refugee body said it was not involved in the deal. A spokeswoman said it was not encouraging large-scale return of refugees to a country where conflict is still raging.
“The UNHCR is not at a stage where it’s promoting return because the conditions are not conducive,” Dana Sleiman said.