Syria conflict: Rebels begin evacuating Homs enclave of al-Wair

  • Members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent assist the families of opposition fighters, board a bus during a government-led evacuation from the rebel-held al-Waer neighborhood, in the western outskirts of the central city of Homs, Syria, 18 March 2017The Syrian Arab Red Crescent is helping to evacuate people from al-Wair, the last rebel-held district of Homs

Syrian rebels and their families are leaving their last remaining enclave in Homs, a city once dubbed “the capital of the revolution”.

Buses have begun transporting people out of al-Wair district, under a Russian-backed evacuation deal.

Al-Wair is home to an estimated 75,000 people and has been under siege by government forces since late 2013.

About 1,500 people will leave for the Aleppo countryside on Saturday, Homs Governor Talal Barazi has said.

The opposition Homs Media Centre says up to 15,000 people could leave in the coming weeks, Reuters news agency reports.

The evacuation is part of a deal reached between community leaders and the government in December 2015. Hundreds of rebels have previously left al-Wair under its terms, but implementation of the agreement had stalled in recent months.

Evacuees will be bussed out of Homs to Jarablus, an area in northern Syria held by rebels backed by Turkey, according to UK-based group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Russian Military police stand guard as a bus drives towards the rebel-held Waer neighbourhood in the central Syrian city of Homs, to transport opposition fighters and their families, on March 18, 2017
Russian forces are on the ground to supervise the evacuation

The Syrian government says such “reconciliation” deals, which have been agreed in several rebel-held areas, are key to ending the six-year civil war. Opposition fighters say that they have been coerced into such agreements by brutal sieges and bombardments.

Homs became a key battleground of the Syrian uprising after residents embraced the call to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad in 2011 and drove security forces out of much of the city the following year.

Media captionAl-Wair district in Homs has been besieged by government forces for nearly three years

That prompted the government to begin a two-year siege that left whole areas destroyed and eventually forced rebels to withdraw from the Old City in 2014.

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

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