BEIRUT — A new 48-hour cease-fire went into effect Thursday between Lebanese Hezbollah fighters allied with Syrian government forces and insurgents in a Syrian border town and two Shiite villages.
Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV said the Shiite group's fighters and Syrian forces have besieged the rebels in the town of Zabadani, near the border with Lebanon, following intense fighting that began in July. The rebels, who once controlled Zabadani, retaliated by attacking the villages of Foua and Kfarya, in the mostly rebel-controlled Idlib province to the north.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the cease-fire stipulates that rebel fighters be given safe passage out of Zabadani and the nearby town of Madaya, where hundreds of civilians have taken refuge from the fighting. In return, the insurgents would allow 1,000 residents of the two villages to leave and allow medical and humanitarian aid to all areas.
Previous Iranian-mediated talks floundered and a cease-fire ended in mid-August after a spokesman for Ahrar al-Sham, one of the rebel groups in Zabadani, said "forced sectarian migration will not be tolerated."
Control of Zabadani town and valley is important for pro-government forces, as it lies near the road between Damascus and Lebanon.
Activists have shared a statement from the local council of Zabadani declaring it a disaster zone and saying thousands of civilians have been displaced. The statement said government warplanes have bombed areas where civilians took refuge, a claim confirmed by the Observatory.
The Observatory said an airstrike on Wednesday in Madaya killed a man, his wife and three children.
Syria's conflict has claimed some 250,000 lives since it began in March 2011, according to U.N. figures.