Syrian rebels begin to leave Homs

Homs - Scores of Syrian opposition fighters and their families began leaving the last rebel-held neighbourhood in the central city of Homs on Saturday as part of a Russian-backed evacuation deal signed earlier this week.

By midday around 100 fighters and their families had left the city, once known as the epicentre of the 2011 uprising against President Bashar Assad. They were bound for a town on the Turkish border after the latest in a series of local agreements in which insurgents have relocated to the rebel-held north after months or years under siege in the country's major cities.

Green government buses ferried the fighters, who were carrying assault rifles, and their families from the northern al-Waer neighbourhood to Homs' western entrance, where they disembarked and had some of their bags searched under the supervision of Syrian and Russian military police. Three fighters arrived in wheelchairs.

The men, women and children, most of them carrying their belongings in suitcases and plastic bags, then boarded white buses that were to take them to the northern rebel-held town of Jarablous on the border with Turkey. The evacuees were assisted by Syrian Arab Red Crescent members as they put their belongings in the buses.

The al-Waer neighbourhood is home to more than 75 000 people and has been under government siege since 2013, triggering shortages of medicine and occasionally of food. The evacuation is the third phase of an agreement reached last year that saw hundreds of fighters and their families leave the area.


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