Rebels evacuated from Homs, cradle of Syrian uprising

Friday, 9 May 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Reuters: Hundreds of Syrian rebels on Wednesday abandoned their last stronghold in the heart of Homs city, an epicentre of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad, handing him a symbolic victory, weeks before his likely re-election. Two convoys of buses snaked their way through the crumbling ruins of the besieged city, taking the fighters to safety in rebel-held areas outside the city under a deal agreed between the insurgents and forces loyal to Assad. The Sunni Muslim fighters had held out in the Old City of Homs and neighbouring districts despite being undersupplied, outgunned and subjected to more than a year of siege and bombardment by Assad’s forces. 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 Qaeda’s Nusra Front, raising questions about the successful completion of the Homs operation. Homs 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 900 fighters out of the old city. Video footage of the first convoy showed a group of men climbing aboard a green bus, watched by around a dozen men in khaki uniform and black flak jackets marked ‘police’. In front of the bus was a white car with the markings of the United Nations, which helped oversee the operation. 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. Later video showed them arriving in a rebel-held area north of the city. Unlike what happened in an evacuation of civilians from Homs in February, activists said, they were not detained for checks by security forces and were allowed to keep their light weapons. The evacuation comes after months of gains by the army, backed by its Lebanese militant ally Hezbollah, along a strategic corridor of territory linking the capital Damascus with Homs and Assad’s Alawite heartland on the Mediterranean.