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Syrian rebels begin to leave besieged Homs district, monitor says

Homs, soon to be cleared of Syrian opposition forces, was once known as the 'heart of the revolution'
Syrians board a bus ahead of their evacuation from the Waer district of Homs on 20 May 2017 (AFP)
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Syrian rebels began to leave the last opposition-held district of Homs city on Saturday under an evacuation deal that will see President Bashar al-Assad's government take back the area, a Reuters witness, a monitor and state media said.

At least one bus carrying rebel fighters and their families left the Waer district earlier, and dozens more were expected to follow, bringing some 2,500 people out of the neighbourhood, long besieged by government forces and their allies.

The evacuation of Waer district is one of the largest of its kind, after a series of similar deals in recent months brought many areas of western Syria long held by the opposition and besieged by government and allied forces back under Assad's control.

The Waer agreement began to be implemented in March. By the time it is completed, up to 20,000 people will have left the district, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group says.

Many of the rebels are to head for insurgent-held Idlib province in Syria's northwest and to the town of Jarablus along the country's northern border with Turkey, pro-Damascus media reported.

Russian oversight

As in other evacuation deals, some rebels have decided to stay in Waer and hand over their weapons as Syria's military and its allies move in.

Young men of conscription age will be required to join the armed forces for military service.

A Russian officer helping oversee the deal's implementation told reporters Russian military police would help with the transition inside Waer.

"Russia has a guarantor role in this agreement. Russian military police will stay, and will carry out duties inside the district," Sergei Druzhin said through an Arabic interpreter.

Russian military police will stay, and will carry out duties inside the district

- Sergei Druzhin, Russian officer

Homs Governor Talal Barazi said the final phase of the evacuation would last some 20 hours, and expected it to be completed late on Saturday or early on Sunday.

"This is the last day. The number of militants expected (to leave) is around 700. With their families the total number could be around 3,000," he told reporters in Waer.

Barazi said at least 20,000 inhabitants remained in Waer, and tens of thousands displaced during fighting would begin to return to the neighbourhood after the deal was completed.

"Over the next few weeks communications networks will return" as well as electricity and water, he said.