Syrian City of Homs Begins Evacuation of Rebels, Civilians

In Syrian city an orderly evacuation of rebels

Eyewitnesses say rebels and their families have begun leaving their last bastion in the Syrian city of Homs.

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

Since then, hundreds of thousands of people are believed to have been killed by the conflict and millions more displaced.

Under a reconciliation agreement signed between the Syrian army and the militants on Monday, between 10,000 and 15,000 people would leave al-Waer over the coming weeks, according to the so-called Homs Media Center. Throughout the day, women and children munching on pieces of bread lined up to load their luggage onto the buses, while men appeared to go through extra screening in separate lines. They were accompanied by 1,056 members of their families and other civilians.

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

The Britain-based war monitor said the buses would go to the Jarablus area held by Turkey-backed rebels in the northern Aleppo countryside.

The agreement underlines Assad's upper hand in the war, as more rebel fighters opt to leave areas they have defended for years in deals that amount to negotiated withdrawals to other parts of the country.

No aid has reached Waer in at least four months.

And no aid has reached the area in at least four months, with a United Nations convoy that attempted to reach Waer in February seized by gunmen who diverted the assistance to a government-held area.

In the coming weeks, evacuees could be shuttled to other rebel-held areas in northern Syria, including the insurgent stronghold of Idlib province, according to state TV. The evacuation is the third phase of an agreement reached past year that saw hundreds of fighters and their families leave the area.

"This agreement was reached only under the patronage of the Russian side. and it will be implemented with Russian guarantees", he said.

Syria has been locked in a devastating civil war since early 2011, instigated by the Assad regime which cracked down on pro-democracy protests that had begun as part of the Arab Spring uprisings, with unexpected ferocity and disproportionate force.

That backing has helped government forces recapture swaths of territory, including eastern Aleppo and the historical desert city of Palmyra.

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