Syrian opposition fighters will be allowed to leave the last rebel-held neighbourhood in the city of Homs under a Russia-backed deal signed on Monday.
According to Talal Barrazi – governor of Homs province where Homs city is the capital – the deal is to be carried out within six to eight weeks.
It follows other agreements that were never fully implemented between the government and rebel groups in al-Waer, their last bastion in Homs, which has been pounded by air strikes in recent weeks.
Homs, the country’s third-largest city, was once the centre of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
Throughout Syria’s war, now at the end of its sixth year, wide parts of the city were held by rebels but state forces eventually regained control of all areas except for Waer.
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Waer is home to about 75,000 people and has been under a government siege since 2013, triggering shortages of medicine and occasionally food.
The UN has not been able to deliver much needed humanitarian aid to the area since September 2016.
Barrazi’s statement, carried by state SANA news agency, said the evacuation is the third phase of a deal reached last year that saw hundreds of fighters and their families leave Waer to other rebel-held areas
Opposition activist Bebars al-Talawy said the agreement was signed Monday, adding a committee will be formed to prepare the lists of names of those who want to leave.
“People are happy that they will get rid of the siege, but sad because they will leave Homs,” Talawy said.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 12,000 Waer residents will be displaced, including 2,500 fighters. It said the first 1,500 people will be evacuated next week.
Those who leave will be taken to rebel-held areas in the countryside of Homs, the northwestern province of Idlib, and the town of Tel Abyad near the border with Turkey, according to the Syrian Observatory.
Monday’s deal followed weeks of intense bombardment and air strikes on the neighbourhood that left 250 killed or wounded.
Syria’s war pits Assad’s forces, backed by Russia and Iran, against rebels supported by the United States, Turkey, and Gulf kingdoms, along with hardline groups affiliated with al-Qaeda.
Assad’s government has increasingly tried to press besieged rebel areas to surrender and accept what it calls “reconciliation agreements”, which involve fighters departing for northern Syria with small arms.
It says such deals are a good way of bringing the country closer to peace. But rights groups and the opposition say the moves forcibly displace people who oppose the government.
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Source: News agencies