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Russia, France Cooperate on Aid to Syria's Civilians

A convoy of ambulances carry Syrian citizens being evacuated from two pro-government villages of Kfarya and Foua, in Idlib provinces, Syria, July 19, 2018.

The Kremlin says Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron spoke by phone on Saturday to discuss joint humanitarian efforts in Syria, a day after France sent 50 tons of medical aid.

France sent the aid after Russia agreed to facilitate transport of the aid to government-controlled eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus that until April was controlled by rebels.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also discussed efforts to solve the humanitarian crisis in Syria, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Earlier Saturday, a Russian military plane left the French city of Chateauroux with 50 tons of medical aid and humanitarian supplies bound for Syria. The aid is to be distributed by an agency of the United Nations that coordinates humanitarian aid.

A French news agency photographer who saw the plane being loaded told AFP the supplies included tents, medical equipment, blankets, and cooking utensils.

A joint statement by France and Russia said "Humanitarian assistance is an absolute priority and must be distributed in accordance with principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence" across Syria without exception.

Meanwhile Saturday, Syrian media and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported a new group of rebels has begun evacuating territory in Quneitra province that recently was re-taken by government troops.

The Syrian Observatory said about 4,000 people are expected to be evacuated. The United Nations and human rights organizations have condemned the evacuations as forced displacement.

The evacuations are part of a deal reached with the rebels controlling that area until the government launched an offensive earlier this year.

The location of the territory is strategically important, as it is in a corner of the country near the borders with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights — territory seized from Syria in 1981.