Syrian rebel fighters evacuated from Homs en masse

Posted March 19, 2017

Hundreds of rebels and civilians began leaving the last opposition-held district of Syria's Homs Saturday under a controversial deal that will bring the whole city under government control.

Homs governor Talal Barazi said he expected 1,500 people to depart on Saturday for rebel-held areas north-east of Aleppo, and that most of al-Waer's residents would stay.

Between 10,000 and 15,000 rebels and civilians would evacuate in batches over the coming weeks under the deal, according to opposition activists in al-Waer and war monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Maher Kayyal, the head of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent's operations in Homs, said they were informed of three medical emergency cases, adding that the number might rise to six. It followed earlier evacuation deals between rebels and government forces that were not fully implemented.

The government has agreed "reconciliation" deals for several rebel-held areas, and touts such agreements that grant safe passage to surrendering fighters as key to ending six years of war.

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After the Arab Spring broke out in 2011, the city of Homs saw massive riots against President Bashar Assad, which gradually turned violent, as peaceful demonstrations led to the rise of an armed insurgency.

People there say they have been told to get out or die. On Monday, a reconciliatory agreement was reached to legalize the juridical status of those who benefit from the amnesty law and the departure of those who did not accept it, in coordination with the Military and the Security Committees in Homs and the Russian Reconciliation Center in the base of Hemymin.

The fighters and their families are being taken to the northern rebel-held town of Jarablus on the border with Turkey. It has been besieged by government forces for about five months.

Speaking to Chinese TV station Phoenix last week, President Assad said ceasefire deals negotiated with local rebel leaders were "the real political solutions" that could lead to a lasting peace in war-torn Syria.

It comes ahead of a new round of UN-brokered talks that open in Geneva on Thursday in an attempt to end the conflict that has killed more than 320,000 people and driven millions from their homes. Russian Federation is an ally of Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime.