French FM: Assad's comments on chemical attack are '100% lies'
BEIJING - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's comments that last week's chemical weapons attack was a fabrication to justify a US military strike are "100% lies", French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Friday.
"It's 100 percent lies and propaganda," Ayrault said in Beijing, responding to an exclusive AFP interview with Assad late Thursday. "It's 100 percent cruelty and cynicism."
Meanwhile, civilians and fighters began evacuating four towns besieged by rebels and government forces Friday under a deal brokered by opposition backer Qatar and regime ally Iran, an AFP correspondent and a local source said.
An AFP correspondent in rebel-held Rashidin, west of Aleppo city, said at least 80 buses arrived in the region from government-held Fuaa and Kafraya in Idlib province . A rebel source in Idlib told AFP "the implementation of the deal started in the morning".
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the beginning of the evacuation.
Madaya resident Amjad al-Maleh, who spoke to AFP on the phone from one of the buses leaving opposition-controlled Madaya and Zabadani at around 6:00 am (0300 GMT), said: "We just left now, around 2,200 persons in around 65 buses".
More than 30,000 people are expected to be evacuated under the deal, which began on Wednesday with an exchange of prisoners between rebels and government forces.
All 16,000 residents of Fuaa and Kafraya are expected to leave, heading to government-held Aleppo, the coastal province of Latakia or Damascus. Civilian residents of Madaya and Zabadani will reportedly be allowed to remain if they choose.