Published: Sun, March 19, 2017
Global Media | By Cecelia Webb

Syrian rebels, families leave last opposition stronghold in Homs

Syrian rebels, families leave last opposition stronghold in Homs

Homs Governor Talal al-Barazi said the evacuation process was being overseen by Syrian and Russian forces, as well as the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency.

Al-Waer was the last opposition pocket in the city of Homs, and this signifies the end of another rebel enclave that has endured some of the worst bombardment and attacks.

Although small-scale deals between the Syrian regime and rebel groups in the last two years have seen hundreds of local residents and gunmen leave the area - often in evacuation deals to Idlib province - al-Waer has faced a tight siege accompanied by intermittent bombardment since 2015.

Between 10,000 and 15,000 rebels and civilians would evacuate in batches over the coming weeks under the agreement.

The men, women and children, most carrying their belongings in suitcases and plastic bags, boarded white busses taking them to the northern rebel-held town of Jarablous on the Turkish border.

Once completed, it would mark the biggest evacuation during the war out of one Syrian district, which is home to about 40,000 civilians and more than 2,500 fighters, the monitoring group said. Earlier this week, he that said rebels who laid down their weapons and made a decision to stay in al-Waer could be eligible for government amnesty, as declared earlier.

No aid has reached Waer in at least four months.

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And no aid has reached the area in at least four months, with a United Nations convoy that attempted to reach Waer in February seized by gunmen who diverted the assistance to a government-held area.

The Syrian government has described such deals as a "workable model" that brings the country closer to peace after six years of conflict.

Completion of the Waer agreement will bring Homs city -once known as the "capital of the revolution" - under the full control of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

But rebels say they are forced into such deals by siege and bombardment, and the United Nations has sharply criticised them.

Their departure is part of a Russia-backed deal signed earlier this month.

That backing has helped government forces recapture swathes of territory, including the whole of second city Aleppo as well as the famed desert city of Palmyra.

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