BEIRUT: More than a dozen buses carrying Syrian refugees left Wednesday the disputed area of Shebaa in Lebanon's southeast toward Syria, under the watchful eye of Lebanon's General Security and army.
The buses carried 472 refugees, including men, women, and children who voluntarily elected to return to their home country after years of living in dire conditions.
A statement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) confirmed that those who elected to leave did so with their own accord, despite the calls of Lebanese officials for refugees to return to Syrian areas which are deemed safe.
Lebanon is home to over one million Syrian refugees, which has taken its toll on the country's economy and stability.
14 buses were seen headed to al-Masnaa crossing point along the Lebanese-Syrian border, accompanied by General Security patrols.
Lebanon's General Security issued a statement declaring that it "secured the safe passage of hundreds of Syrian refugees from the villages of Shebaa, Kfarchouba, and al-Habbarieh to their hometowns in Syria." Initial reports have indicated that the buses are headed to Beit Jinn, a town located in the southwest of Damascus.
Syria has been ravaged by a bloody civil war for almost a decade, as President Bashar Assad's forces are locked in a fierce battle against different rebel factions, including the Islamic State.
Yet the scale appears to have been tipped in his favor after Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah threw their weight behind him.
After weeks of deadly clashes, Assad's forces secured last week the last remaining stronghold of Ghouta close to the capital, a significant move after the government recaptured eastern Aleppo in 2016.
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