Published: Mon, March 20, 2017
Markets | By Lucia Cruz

Syrian rebels, civilians begin leaving Homs district in deal with govt

Syrian rebels, civilians begin leaving Homs district in deal with govt

Syrian rebels and their families began retreating from the outskirts of Homs, the last remaining opposition-held stronghold in central Syria, after a Russian-brokered evacuation deal was signed earlier this week.

The Homs Media Center, an activist group, is reporting that 2,000 residents, including 400 rebel fighters, have left Al-Waer and are heading to Jarablus in the Aleppo countryside.

It was an early centre of the popular uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

"Once the militants and their families withdraw, city authorities will prepare it for the return of more than 100,000 al-Waer residents, who were forced to flee the neighborhood after it was captured by armed groups", he said.

Al-Waer, home to about 75,000 people, had been under a government siege since 2013.

"These lies are a desperate attempt aimed at sabotaging the reconciliation agreement of al-Waer neighborhood in particular and the process of successive reconciliations in general", said al-Barazi.

Reporters saw scores of opposition fighters and their families leaving the area on Saturday in buses bound for the northern rebel-held town of Jarablous on the border with Turkey.

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The evacuation is part of a deal reached between community leaders and the government in December 2015.

More than 1,500 people are expected to be evacuated from the neighborhood of al-Waer on Saturday, including around 500 rebels, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"Syrian police, Russian military police and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent will protect the convoys and accompany them from Homs onto Aleppo province", Homs governor Talal Barazi told AFP. But the opposition decries them as a tactic of forcibly displacing people who oppose Assad after years of bombardment and siege. Last month, a United Nations convoy was seized by gunmen who diverted the assistance to a government-held area.

Syria's government has agreed "reconciliation" deals in several rebel-held areas, and touts the local agreements that grant safe passage to surrendering fighters as key to ending the country's war.

But rebels say they are forced into such deals by siege and bombardment, and the United Nations has sharply criticised them. Hundreds of rebels have previously left al-Wair under its terms, but implementation of the agreement had stalled in recent months.

A similar deal saw the evacuation of militants and their families from Aleppo late a year ago.

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