Middle East

Syria conflict: Rebels agree to leave last Homs enclave

A still image taken from a video uploaded to a social media website on 25 February 2017, purportedly showing air strikes on rebel-held Homs district of al-Wair Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Syrian government aircraft reportedly bombed al-Wair last month despite a nationwide truce

Syrian rebel fighters have agreed to leave their last enclave in the city of Homs, government officials say.

Homs Governor Talal Barrazi said the evacuation of al-Wair was part of an existing deal with community leaders and would take six to eight weeks.

Opposition activists said the rebels would be allowed to depart with their families for rebel-held northern Syria.

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

Homs was dubbed the "capital of the revolution" 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.

That prompted the government to begin a brutal 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.

In December 2015, community leaders agreed a five-stage truce with the government.

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

The first phase led to 300 rebels leaving and the government allowing in a limited amount of food and humanitarian aid. But the deal subsequently stalled.

The second phase did not take place until September, when several hundred more rebels were evacuated and the government freed 200 imprisoned al-Wair residents.

The next two phases will see about 10,000 to 15,000 people leaving in several groups over the coming weeks, opposition activists from the Homs Media Centre told Reuters news agency.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Several hundred rebels were evacuated from al-Wair last September

The pro-opposition Orient News website reported that the rebels planned to head to Jarablus, a town near the border with Turkey that was captured from so-called Islamic State last August.

In a separate development on Monday, several rebel factions said they were not yet ready to send a delegation to attend talks with the government that are scheduled to begin in Kazakhstan on Tuesday.

Ahmed Othman of the Sultan Murad brigade told Reuters that one of the reasons for the boycott was unfulfilled promises relating to a cessation of hostilities agreement brokered by Russia and Turkey at the end of December.

Mr Othman complained that Russia, an ally of President Bashar al-Assad, had failed to halt the government's bombardment of rebel-held areas.