News / Middle East

Buses Evacuate Rebels from Homs

Cars drive on a street in a government-controlled district of Homs, May 7, 2014.
Cars drive on a street in a government-controlled district of Homs, May 7, 2014.
VOA News
Hundreds of Syrian rebels began withdrawing from parts of the besieged center of Homs city, under a cease-fire deal which hands back control to the government less than a month before Syria's presidential elections.

Buses carrying rebel fighters and civilians began leaving the Old City Wednesday as part of the deal struck between government forces, rebels, and opposition activists.

Activists said a total of 1,900 people, mainly rebel fighters, were being evacuated. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent said on its Twitter account it had sent ambulances to take wounded people out of the city centre.

Captives held by rebels freed in Aleppo, Latakia

At the same time as they were evacuated from Homs, dozens of captives held by rebels in the northern provinces of Aleppo and Latakia were also freed as part of the same deal.

But a planned relief convoy trying to reach two rebel-blockaded Shi'ite towns outside Aleppo was turned back by fighters from al-Qaida's Nusra Front, raising questions about the successful completion of the Homs operation.

Provincial governor Talal Barazi denied reports during the
day of any halt to the evacuation, which the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said had transported 400 fighters out of the old city.

Video footage showed a group of fighters boarding buses, many carrying their weapons , and later arriving at rebel-held towns.

The evacuation of the city, once called "the capital of the revolution," is a blow to rebels who vowed to fight there until the end.  They agreed to leave after months of bombardments and blockades that caused massive damage, casualties and widespread hunger.

Rebels also agreed to ease their siege and allow aid into two Shiite majority towns in northern Syria, as well as release some captives.

Assad gaining ground

Once the evacuation is complete, forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad will control almost all of Homs city, except for the rebel-held Waer district. But activists and officials say negotiations are under way for a similar evacuation deal there.

At least 150,000 people have died in the Syrian civil war. It began in March 2011 as protests against Assad.

Officials say Assad and two other candidates will compete in the country's June 3 presidential election.

The president is widely expected to win.

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