Last Rebels Leave Key Syrian City as Government Reasserts Control
By VOA News May 21, 2017
Witnesses say hundreds of Syrian rebels and their families have evacuated the last opposition-controlled district in Homs, a key city in western Syria known four years ago as the de facto capital of opposition forces seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad.
Homs Governor Talal Barazi told reporters the last bus carrying evacuees left the city's Waer district Sunday, adding that all armed fighters had departed, along with their weapons.
Barazi told the state-controlled SANA news agency that government security forces will be deployed in the district and that engineers are working to defuse landmines and other explosives left behind.
The rebel withdrawal -- the second such urban evacuation in a week -- is part of a broad deal brokered by Russia under which rebels leave longheld districts under government guarantees of safe passage to rebel-held territory near the Turkish border.
A similar withdrawal last week saw an estimated 1,500 rebels and their families leave suburban Damascus, and hundreds of others depart nearby districts for rebel-controlled northwestern Idlib province.
Waer had been under full government siege for more than a year, and on Sunday the governor said more than 14,000 people had left the district in several waves since the safe passage deal took effect two months ago. The activist Syrian Observatory for Human Rights placed the number of evacuees at 20,000.
Barazi, speaking on state television, said more than 1,000 other rebels surrendered their weapons and decided to stay in the district, under provisions of the government amnesty.
Earlier this year, the International Committee of the Red Cross helped supervise the evacuation of more than 25,000 rebels and their families from the northern city of Aleppo. That evacuation ended a months-long government siege in which more than 500 civilians, including at least 100 children, were killed.
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