Operation to Withdraw First Group of Militants From Syrian Homs Completed

Syrian rebels and their families are leaving their last remaining stronghold in the city of Homs, under a Russian-backed evacuation deal.

Government forces have been fighting to retake the al-Waer neighborhood, home to some 75,000 people, since 2013.

Known as "reconciliation agreements", this is one of the Syrian government's local pacts that allow surrendering civilians and fighters to evacuate to other rebel-held regions.

Maher Kayyal, the head of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent's operations in Homs, said they were informed of three medical emergency cases, adding that the number might rise to six. "We are optimistic that the full exit of armed (fighters) from this district will pave the way for other reconciliations and settlements", he added.

The men, women and children, majority carrying their belongings in suitcases and plastic bags, then boarded white busses that were to take them to the northern rebel-held town of Jarablous on the border with Turkey.

Al-Waer is the only neighborhood still under opposition-control in Homs after regime troops took over the city in 2014.

The Syrian government has described such deals as a "workable model" that brings the country closer to peace after six years of conflict.

However, the opposition decries them as a tactic of forcibly displacing people who oppose Assad after years of bombardment and siege.

The first buses carrying rebels and their families departed from the al-Waer neighborhood in western Homs early on Saturday, state-run SANA news agency reported.

Dozens of buses stood at a crossing waiting to leave al-Waer, accompanied by SARC ambulances, a Reuters witness said.

"There are no difficulties so far as all parties respect the agreement", he said.

Police officers searched people before the buses drove out.

More groups of fighters and civilians are expected to leave the district in the next two months.

In recent weeks, there have been reports of intensive bombardment of the area.

Under the agreement, fighters could stay in al-Waer if they hand over their weapons and settle their affairs with the government, it said.

The Homs Media Center, an activist group, is reporting that 2,000 residents, including 400 rebel fighters, have left Al-Waer and are heading to Jarablus in the Aleppo countryside. Russian Federation is an ally of Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime.

  • Leroy Wright