Hundreds of civilians and Syrian rebel forces began evacuating the last opposition-held district in the central city of Homs early Wednesday under a deal with the regime, the provincial governor said.
“The first set of people have left the district of Waer and the second group will leave soon,” Talal Barazi told journalists on the edges of the rebel-held area.
Barazi said some 700 people — including 400 women and children and 300 fighters — would be evacuated from the district on Wednesday, after a deal reached earlier this month between rebel forces and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Just outside the district, an AFP journalist saw dozens of women and children quietly boarding at least eight large white buses, as white SUVs belonging to the United Nations waited nearby.
The deal will see some 2,000 rebels and their families leave the besieged neighbourhood of Homs city, once dubbed “the capital of the revolution”.
“We are implementing the first stage, which will be complete at the end of next week,” Barazi said.
Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, said about 500 people had already been transported out of the city.
“Eleven buses have left the city, including the first bus of fighters,” he told AFP.
He said residents began gathering at “4:00 am (0200 GMT) in the streets, waiting to leave the city.”
Buses will head from Homs city to the Qalaat al-Madiq area of central Hama province, then onto the northwestern province of Idlib.
Idlib province is held by the Army of Conquest rebel alliance, which includes Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front and which would send some of its forces to escort the buses, according to Abdel Rahman.
Earlier this month, Barazi said all rebels would leave Waer within two months, in return for the regime lifting its siege of the district and ending military operations there.
Government police — but not troops — will then reenter the area.