Syrian rebels, families leave last opposition stronghold in Homs

Syrian rebels, families leave last opposition stronghold in Homs

Syrian rebels, families leave last opposition stronghold in Homs

Hundreds of fighters along with about 1,000 civilians left the last rebel-held district of Homs on Saturday under a controversial Russian-supervised deal to bring Syria's third city under full government control.

Buses began transporting people out of the Al-Wair district on March 18.

Homs governor Talal Barazi told Reuters that he expected 1,500 people, including at least 400 fighters, to depart on Saturday for rebel-held areas northeast of Aleppo, and that most of al-Waer's residents would stay.

Known as "reconciliation agreements", this is one of the Syrian government's local pacts that allow surrendering civilians and fighters to evacuate to other rebel-held regions.

In 2011 the violent repression of demonstrations in many Homs neighbourhoods calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down from power lead thousands to seek refuge in al-Waer.

Government forces have been fighting to retake the al-Waer neighborhood, home to some 75,000 people, since 2013.

He added that units of the Internal Security Forces will be back on duty in al-Waer neighborhood once the agreement is accomplished, affirming that security will be established in the neighborhood and families will return to their homes. He had said earlier this week that fighters who decide to stay in al-Waer can benefit from a government amnesty issued earlier.

Three waves of rebels and their families have already quit Waer under an agreement first reached in December 2015, but the deal has stalled since then.

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent, along with Russian and Syrian officials are supervising the Al-Waer evacuation.

Some opposition activists have criticized the agreement, saying it aims to displace 12,000 al-Waer residents, including 2,500 fighters.

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.

The opposition's Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights called the evacuees "internally displaced" people. Hundreds of rebels have previously left al-Wair under its terms, but implementation of the agreement had stalled in recent months.

But the opposition says it is forced into such deals by siege and bombardment.

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.

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