1500 gunmen, their families leave al-Waer neighborhood in Homs

20 March, 2017, 00:49 | Author: Elaine Woods
  • 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

The first convoy of rebel fighters from al-Waer, Homs, arrived in opposition-controlled areas in north Syria in the early hours of Sunday, March 19, according to opposition reports.

Some 1,500 fighters and civilians aboard 40 buses left Waer, the last opposition-held district in Homs, to Jarabulus in northern Syria, the sources said on condition of anonymity due to restrictions on speaking to media.

By sunset, 344 fighters and their families had left the city - once a center of protest during the 2011 uprising - completing the evacuation for the day.

Rebels and civilians have poured into Idlib at an accelerating rate over the a year ago, bussed out of other parts of western Syria that the government and allied forces recaptured from rebels.

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent, along with Russian and Syrian officials are supervising the Al-Waer evacuation.

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

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

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Waer district has been under a siege by regime forces for four years.

But the Britain-based monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said regime forces had stepped up their bombardment of the district and killed dozens of civilians over the past month.

Three waves of rebels and their families have already quit Waer under an agreement first reached in December 2015, but the deal has stalled since then.

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.

Green government buses ferried the fighters, many carrying assault rifles, and their families from the northern al-Waer neighborhood to Homs' western entrance, where they disembarked and had some of their bags searched under the supervision of Syrian and Russian military police.

The deal follows others that were never fully implemented between the government and rebel groups in al-Waer, which has been pounded by air strikes in recent weeks. Once Syria's second-largest city, Aleppo was finally completely liberated a year ago when rebels evacuated after a ceasefire was declared.

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