Homs governor says over 750 rebels leave under ceasefire deal

More than 750 Syrians, including rebels and their families, leave last opposition-held district in Homs following ceasefire deal with regime, provincial governer says

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

A man gestures as he looks out of the window in a bus leaving the district of Waer during a truce between the government and rebel fighters, in Homs on December 9, 2015 (Reuters)

Homs Governor Talal al Barazi said that about 320 fighters, some carrying light weapons, and their 450 family members evacuated the last opposition-held district in Homs on Wednesday as a part of a ceasefire deal agreed between the opposition and the regime led by Bashar al Assad.

Hundreds of Syrian rebels and civilians have been leaving the Waer district under a rare local ceasefire agreed with the regime at the beginning of December.

Barazi said that the first rebels who were being evacuated were from the Nusra Front. They had refused to accept a deal with the regime troops in Waer and will be sent to the northwestern province of Idlib.

"Today's evacuees are more extreme militants. Other armed personnel will surrender their arms according to the requirements of the national reconciliation deal and be forgiven to live a normal life," said Barazi.

Barazi said that the buses would stop in Hama province if rebels disembarked before continuing to Idlib, a province held by armed groups, including the Nusra Front.

Approximately 2,000 rebels and their families wanted to remain in the district, but then reconciled with the regime, he added saying that the evacuation process for them could take several weeks.

Barazi also stated that after the full implementation of the deal, Homs would be rebel-free and Waer would gradually be returned to the control of the regime.

The evacuation started early on Wednesday. The rebels and their families were moved to opposition-held areas of northwest Syria, near the Turkish border.

Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that the buses were headed to the northwestern province of Idlib, adding that 750 people were expected to leave on Wednesday.

A United Nations vehicle and Syrian Army Forces escort buses carrying rebel fighters as they leave the district of Waer during a truce between the regime and rebel fighters, in Homs, Syria on December 9, 2015 (Reuters)

Homs was the centre of the uprisings against Assad, and the Waer district was under siege for three years and heavily shelled. 

The evacuation came as Syrian rebels, including armed factions, held unprecented talks in the Saudi capital Riyadh on forming a united front for talks with Assad.

Following the talks, foreign military action intensified, including the first Russian strikes from a submarine on Tuesday and made a major diplomatic push to resolve the nearly five-year-old Syrian civil war.

The deal was negotiated after the Syrian army conducted a ground offensive to the north of the city supported by Russian air strikes.

Under the deal, the rebels are to completely leave the district by the end of January. Rebel detainees will be freed from the regime jails and food supplies and aid convoys will be allowed into Waer, where government institutions will be re-established and infrastructure will be rebuilt.

The United States has supervised the negotiations and implementation of the agreement.

World powers called for a nationwide ceasefire and an extension of UN mediation role for Syria during the peace talks in Vienna in October.

Syria's third-largest city Homs has geographic, strategic and economic importance in the country. Before the civil war, its population was around 1.5 million. Protests blew up in the city at the beginning of the riot against regime leader Bashar al Assad in 2011 and the city has been under government siege since 2012.

TRTWorld and agencies