Syrian rebels begin evacuation from besieged Homs neighbourhood

Buses drive past a Syrian army soldier to evacuate rebel fighters and their families from the besieged Waer district in the central Syrian city of Homs

Syrian rebels begin evacuation from besieged Homs neighbourhood

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.

Homs Governor Talal Barrazi said around 1,500 fighters are expected to leave al-Waer, with only their personal rifles, over the next six to eight weeks.

Sources with the monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights say at least 10 buses entered the neighborhood.

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.

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

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. Last month, a United Nations convoy was seized by gunmen who diverted the assistance to a government-held area.

"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.

Al-Wair, on the western outskirts, is the last rebel-held district.

He added that he had not expected anything from Geneva, where UN-led peace talks ended this month with no breakthrough.

Although small-scale deals between the Syrian regime and rebel groups in the last two years have seen hundreds of local residents and gunmen leave the area - often in evacuation deals to Idlib province - al-Waer has faced a tight siege accompanied by intermittent bombardment since 2015.

"Not a single weapon or fighter will be left in Waer", he said, adding that about 40,000 residents were expected to stay in the district.

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.

The fighters and their families are being taken to the northern rebel-held town of Jarablus on the border with Turkey. Russian Federation is an ally of Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime.

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