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

19 March 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.

The first two buses carrying rebels and their families left al-Waer district in the morning, heading for other rebel-held areas in northern Syria.

Homs Governor Talal al Barazi told reporters that all measures have been taken to guarantee the evacuation of the extremists and the functioning of public institutions in the region.

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

The state-run SANA news agency reported tha the evacuation is supervised by the Syrian Red Crescent as well as Russian and Syrian troops.

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. Earlier this week, he that said rebels who laid down their weapons and chose to stay in al-Waer could be eligible for government amnesty, as declared earlier.

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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.

He added that he had not expected anything from Geneva, where UN-led peace talks ended this month with no breakthrough. It has been besieged by government forces for about five months.

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.

Broadcasting live from the Al-Waer departure area, Syrian state television spoke to a Russian soldier, who said via an interpreter that security would soon return to the district.

Under the agreement, evacuees will be bussed to opposition-held parts of Homs province, the rebel-held town of Jarabulus on the Syrian-Turkish border or the northwestern province of Idlib.

Rebel groups have been on the back foot in Syria, following Russia's intervention into the war on Assad's side, bringing its air power to bear in support of his army and its Iranian and Shiite militia allies.

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