Syrian rebel fighters evacuated from Homs en masse

Syrian rebel fighters evacuated from Homs en masse

Syrian rebel fighters evacuated from Homs en masse

Almost 1,500 people, mostly civilians, left the last opposition-held district of Homs on Saturday (March 18) under a controversial Russian-supervised deal to bring Syria's third city under full government control.

The Syrian regime has since wrestled back complete control of Homs city - with the exception of al-Waer - and a year ago announced plans for ambitious rebuilding projects in several districts of the city, none of which appear to have begun.

The agreement underlines Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's upper hand in the war, as more militants opt to leave in deals that amount to negotiated withdrawals to other parts of the country.

Over the past month, government forces have stepped up bombardment of the district, killing dozens of people, according to the Britain-based Observatory.

Al-Wair is home to an estimated 75,000 people and has been under siege by government forces since late 2013.

Homs Governor Talal al-Barazi told SANA reporter that the governorate has completed all logistic preparations and measures for getting the first batch of the gunmen out of al-Waer in the framework of implementing the reconciliation agreement which was agreed upon last week. Opposition fighters say that they have been coerced into such agreements by brutal sieges and bombardments.

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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.

Under a new agreement last week between government and rebel representatives, evacuees will be taken to opposition-held parts of Homs province, the rebel-held town of Jarabulus on the Syrian-Turkish border or the rebel-held north-western province of Idlib.

In March 2014, armed groups were evacuated from the old city of Homs.

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 Shi'ite militia allies.

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.

He said the building that was struck was a "partially constructed community meeting hall" that Al Qaeda leaders used to gather and "as a place to educate and indoctrinate Al Qaeda fighters".

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