Damascus consolidates position as Syrian city of Homs cleared of opposition | News | DW | 21.05.2017
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Syria Bashar al-Assad

Damascus consolidates position as Syrian city of Homs cleared of opposition

Syria's third largest city has been cleared of armed opposition for the first time since 2011. Once the center of the revolt against the Assad regime, Homs' clearance marks a major shift in the balance of forces.

The clearance of Homs follows the evacuation of the last rebel-held neighborhood, al-Waer, which had been besieged for four years, the Syrian government said Sunday.

"It is a great achievement today," Homs governor Talal Barrazi told Syrian TV channel al-Ikhbariya. He said state institutions will begin returning to al-Waer immediately.

A correspondent with French news agency Agence France-Presse said the evacuees left on board 50 buses as more than 30 trucks packed with household belongings trailed behind.

"The last bus [with evacuees on board] has left the al-Waer neighborhood," Barazi told the French news agency Agence France-Presse. "There are no more weapons or armed men in al-Waer [...] we can declare Homs to be a secure city."

Syrian TV broadcast from inside al-Waer showed children and men gathering around government-sponsored trucks distributing bread and goods.

The last stage of rebel withdrawal from Al Waer district in Homs. /Sputnik

Rebel fighters left with women and children on board 50 buses

Government on the offensive

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 20,000 people had been evacuated from al-Waer to the rebel-held areas in the country's north over the past several weeks. 

Rebels still control areas north of Homs, while the government is on the offensive against so-called "Islamic State" militants to the south.

Syria's opposition and armed rebels are now concentrated in the rebel-held northern province of Idlib, and in rural Aleppo along the border with Turkey. IS militants still hold territory in eastern and northeastern Syria and south of Homs.

Russian soldiers to be deployed

Homs had been at least partially controlled by the rebels since the early days of the revolt that broke out in 2011.

The Russian-supervised operation to clear the area began two months ago and has been carried out over several weeks. At least 600 Russian soldiers will reportedly now be deployed in al-Waer to provide security for residents who still live there or for those who were displaced by fighting and wish to return home.

jbh/cmk (AP, AFP)

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