Beirut: Syria's government and rebels exchanged some 30 prisoners and nine bodies, part of a larger agreement to evacuate four besieged areas of the country, activists and officials said yesterday.

Hakim Baghdadi, a member of the relief committee for Foua and Kfarya, two rebel-besieged villages in northwestern Syria, said the overnight release was overseen by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. He said gunfire erupted during the exchange, causing a pause in the process, but providing no further details.

The military-run media said rebels released eight women, four children and eight bodies. Pro-government militias freed 19 gunmen and released one body. The exchange came as part of a deal to evacuate over 10,000 residents, an agreement that critics say amounts to forced displacement.