Syrian rebels, families leave last opposition stronghold in Homs

  • Syrian rebels, families leave last opposition stronghold in Homs

Syrian rebels, families leave last opposition stronghold in Homs

The Syrian Army has wrestled back complete control of Homs city in the previous months - with the exception of al-Waer - and past year announced plans for rebuilding projects in several districts of the city.

He added that the governorate is working on drawing up a comprehensive plan to secure the return of all the families that had earlier left their houses in al-Waer neighborhood after the evacuation process is completed and services are fully restored.

Thousands are expected to leave Waer in the coming weeks in the final phase of the agreement, which had stalled in recent months.

The agreement underlines Syrian President Bashar al-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.

"The preparations and the reality on the ground indicate that things will go well", the governor stressed.

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

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

An estimated 50,000 people are believed to be living in al-Waer, down from about 300,000 before the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011.

Reporters saw scores of opposition fighters and their families leaving the area on Saturday in buses bound for the northern rebel-held town of Jarablous on the border with Turkey.

As the Syrian military continues their offensive against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), Damascus has intensified its efforts to persuade some of the rebel groups to surrender and sign reconciliation agreements. It has been besieged by regime forces for about five months.

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

A few hundred rebels from the district have previously been allowed safe passage to Idlib in the northwest.

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

Rebel groups have been on the back foot in Syria, following Russia's intervention into the war on Assad's side, bringing its air power to bear in support of his army and its Iranian and Shi'ite militia allies.