Rebels Leave Al-Waer Under Government Evacuation Deal

Families of opposition fighters sit in a bus waiting to leave as rebels quit the last neighbourhood they held in Syria's third city Homs

Residents and fighters from the last remaining rebel stronghold in the Syrian city of Homs are facing a life or death choice.

The al-Waer neighborhood of Homs is home to some 75,000 people.

Homs Governor Talal Barrazi said around 1,500 fighters are expected to leave al-Waer, with only their personal rifles, over the next six to eight weeks.

More than 1,500 people are expected to be evacuated from the neighbourhood of al-Waer on Saturday, including around 500 rebels, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

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By midday around 100 fighters and their families had left the city, once known as the epicenter of the 2011 uprising against President Bashar Assad.

Over the past month, government forces have stepped up their bombardment of the district, killing dozens of people, the Britain-based monitoring group said.

The evacuation of Waer, a north-western district that has been under siege by the army for years, is the latest in a series of "reconciliation" deals struck by the government in opposition-controlled areas. But the opposition decries them as a tactic of forcibly displacing people who oppose Assad after years of bombardment and siege.

Under the agreement, evacuees will be bussed to opposition-held parts of Homs province, the rebel-held town of Jarabulus on the Syrian-Turkish border or the northwestern province of Idlib. It has been besieged by government forces for about five months.

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Mr Barazi said there was communication with other rebel-held areas north of Homs city to reach similar deals. The evacuation is the third phase of an agreement reached previous year that saw hundreds of fighters and their families leave the area.

"These lies are a desperate attempt aimed at sabotaging the reconciliation agreement of al-Waer neighborhood in particular and the process of successive reconciliations in general", said al-Barazi. Russian Federation is an ally of Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime.

The rebel fighters head to an area targeted in recent days by United States airstrikes.

The wide array of mostly Sunni rebel factions includes some jihadists as well as some groups supported by the United States, Turkey and Gulf monarchies.

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The civil war, which entered its seventh year earlier this month, has killed more than 400,000 people and displaced more than half the country's population.

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