Syrian Rebels Leave Last Remaining Stronghold In Homs

Syrian Rebels Leave Last Remaining Stronghold In Homs

The Russian-backed deal with the government is expected to be among the largest evacuations of its kind.

By midday around 100 fighters and their families had left the city, once known as the epicenter of the 2011 uprising against President Bashar Assad.

They were accompanied by SARC ambulances, eyewitnesses say.

How many people are leaving?

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.

Evacuees will be bussed out of Homs to Jarablus, an area in northern Syria held by rebels backed by Turkey, according to UK-based group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The civil war, which entered its seventh year earlier this month, has killed more than 400,000 people and displaced more than half the country's population.

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A few hundred rebels from the district have previously been allowed safe passage to Idlib in the northwest. Government forces have recaptured all but the Al-Wair district in the city.

Are there plans for other evacuations?

The evacuation is part of a deal reached between community leaders and the government in December 2015. "We are optimistic that the full exit of armed [fighters] from this district will pave the way for other reconciliations and settlements", he added.

The government has increasingly tried to press besieged rebel areas to surrender and accept what it calls reconciliation agreements that involve fighters departing for northern Syria.

In recent weeks, there have been reports of intensive bombardment of the area. He had said earlier this week that fighters who decide to stay in al-Waer can benefit from a government amnesty that was issued earlier.

Moscow has brought air power and support from its Iranian and Shi'ite militia allies. The wide array of mostly Sunni rebel factions includes some jihadists as well as some groups supported by the United States, Turkey and Gulf monarchies.

That prompted the government to begin a two-year siege that left whole areas destroyed and eventually forced rebels to withdraw from the Old City in 2014. Opposition fighters say that they have been coerced into such agreements by brutal sieges and bombardments.