The last rebel-held area in Syria’s Homs city is to be evacuated, after heavy bombardment and shelling in recent weeks forced the rebels to accept withdrawal deal.
Opposition-affiliated Orient News reported that negotiators from al-Waer had signed an agreement for rebel factions and their families to go to the area around Jarablus in northern Syria, held by Turkey-backed insurgent groups.
The deal follows other agreements that were never fully implemented between the government and rebel groups in al-Waer, their last bastion in Homs, which has been pounded by air strikes in recent weeks.
Both sides signed the deal according to which opposition fighters and their families who choose not to accept living under Assad regime’s control, will be forcibly displaced and head to Idlib, or Jarablus in northern Syria
Homs, the country’s third-largest city, was once the center of the uprising against Bashar al-Assad.
Throughout the Syrian crisis, wide parts of the city were held by rebels but state forces eventually regained control of all areas except for Waer. The rebel fighters withdrew from old Homs in 2014 after two years of intensive bombardment, that left more than the third of Homs destroyed.
Waer is home to about 75,000 people and has been under a government siege since 2013, triggering shortages of medicine and occasionally food.
The UN has not been able to deliver much needed humanitarian aid to the area since September 2016.
12.000 residents to be displaced
According to Talal Barrazi – governor of Homs province – the deal is to be carried out within six to eight weeks.
Barrazi’s statement, carried by state SANA news agency, said the evacuation is the third phase of a deal reached last year that saw hundreds of fighters and their families leave Waer to other rebel-held areas.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 12,000 Waer residents will be displaced, including 2,500 fighters. It said the first 1,500 people will be evacuated next week.
Opposition activist Bebars al-Talawy said the agreement was signed Monday, adding a committee will be formed to prepare the lists of names of those who want to leave.
“People are happy that they will get rid of the siege, but sad because they will leave Homs,” Talawy said.
Opposition sources added that those who choose to stay in al-Waer will have to accept settlement and Assad regime might take any procedures against them including detention or draft to compulsory military service, for males, Osama Abu Zeid, head of Homs Media Center said.
The guarantor for the deal was the Russian side who is trying to impose its influence and presence on the ground. However, there were no real guarantees given to al-Waer residents by the Russians or Assad regime, Abu Zeid also said.
Assad regime aims at displacing all the fighters of al-Waer neighborhood – along with their families – towards northern Syria to reoccupy the district, which is considered to be the last stronghold of the opposition in the city of Homs.
Local “reconciliation” agreements are “the solution”
When asked about the solution he imagines, Assad said that it involves fighting who he called as terrorists, while seeking dialogue through “reconciliation agreements” with those who decide to return to the “government’s amnesty.”
“You need to have two parallel ways: the first one is to fight the terrorists, and this is our duty as government, to defend the Syrians and use any means in order to destroy the terrorists who’ve been killing and destroying in Syria. The second one is to make a dialogue. This dialogue has many different aspects” Assad said.
“You have the political part, which is related to the future of Syria; what political system do you need, what kind? It doesn’t matter which one, it depends on the Syrians, and they’re going to have referendum about what they want. The second part is to try to bring many of those people who were affiliated to the terrorists or who committed any terrorist acts to go back to their normality and lay down their armaments and to live normal life in return for amnesty that has been offered by the government, and we’ve been going in that direction for three years, and it worked very well,” Assad added.
“So, actually, if you want to talk about the real political solution since the beginning of the crisis, of the war on Syria, till this moment, the only solution was those reconciliations between the government and the different militants in Syria, many of them joined the government now, and they are fighting with the government. Some of them laid down their.”
Assad regime forces, helped by Russian air power and Iran-backed Shiite militias, has steadily ended armed opposition influence in the remaining pockets of resistance around the capital, in addition to many areas in Syria, using a series of army offensives and evacuation agreements, after years of siege, starvation, and daily bombing.
Assad regime describes the evacuation deals as “reconciliation” or “settlement agreements”, but rebels say they involve the forcible displacement of whole communities from opposition areas after years of siege and bombardment.
The Syrian crisis began as a peaceful demonstration against the injustice in Syria. Assad regime used to fire power and violence against the civilians and led to armed resistance. 450.000 Syrians lost their lives in the past five years according to UN estimates, and more than 12 million have lost their homes.