Syrian rebels leaving last Homs enclave

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.’’

Evacuation part of deal
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.

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.

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.

BBC/Mercy Chukwudibere