The last buses carrying rebel fighters and their families prepared to leave a besieged district of Syria’s Homs on Sunday, the provincial governor said, completing a deal to bring the whole city back under government control.
Several hundred fighters left on Saturday and Sunday in the final phase of the evacuation of insurgents from al-Waer, long besieged by government forces and the last opposition-held neighbourhood in Homs, an early centre of the Syrian uprising.
Government forces backed by Russian military police had begun to take control of key parts of the district, a Russian officer told Syrian state TV.
Homs Governor Talal Barazi told reporters that in the coming hours “al-Waer will be empty of all militants and weapons”.
He said more than 700 rebel fighters would have left by the end of the final phase on Sunday, as well as at least 1,000 other people including their family members.
That brought to more than 14,000 the total number of people to leave al-Waer in several phases since the agreement began to be implemented in March, Barazi said.
Among them were some 3,700 rebels, allowed to leave with their light weapons.
State television showed rebels milling around, depositing bags and suitcases in front of buses, and holding Kalashnikov assault rifles as armed men from the government side watched the proceedings.
Some 1,150 rebel fighters have decided to stay in the district and hand over their weapons under a government amnesty, Barazi said.
Syria’s government calls the evacuation deals — which have also taken place in besieged areas around Damascus, and in Aleppo at the end of last year — reconciliation agreements. It says they allow services and security to be restored.
The opposition has criticised the agreements, however, saying they amount to forced displacement of Assad’s opponents away from Syria’s main urban centres, often after years of siege and bombardment.
The United Nations has criticised both the use of siege tactics which precede such deals and the evacuations themselves as amounting to forcible displacement.
(Reporting by Reuters team in Homs and John Davison Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)