BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian government officials said on Tuesday they had agreed on a deal for opposition fighters to withdraw from the last insurgent-held area of the city of Homs with their weapons as part of a local ceasefire agreement.
Sources told Reuters earlier on Tuesday that Syrian and United Nations officials had been meeting in Homs, a major battleground on Syria’s north-south highway, to try to finalize a deal following a ceasefire in the city’s Waer district.
It was not immediately clear whether representatives of armed groups had been directly participating in the meeting. Reuters was unable to immediately contact insurgents in the area following the announcements by Syrian officials.
Homs Governor Talal al-Barazi told state news agency SANA that negotiations had taken place with “special committees” for reconciliation.
A previous agreement between the rival sides in 2014 in Homs led to Syrian rebels withdrawing from the Old City and neighboring districts after being besieged by Syrian government forces.
There have been a number of local ceasefire deals and attempts to secure them in parts of western Syria this year in the absence of a national solution to the nearly five-year conflict which has killed some 250,000 people.
“We are now waiting for the logistical preparations that will contribute to the successful implementation” of the deal, said Ali Haidar, minister for national reconciliation.
“What is more important than the details is that the process starts to build trust with those who are willing to exit. Then there will be procedures for the safe and secure exit and this will build trust with local people in Waer,” he added.
The Syrian army and allied militia launched a major ground offensive north of Homs city after Russia, main ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, started carrying out air strikes in support of the Syrian army and allied fighters two months ago.
U.S. President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that there may start to be pockets of ceasefires in parts of Syria, freeing opposition groups from Russian bombings.
The Waer agreement also includes efforts to settle “the status of militants who wish to hand in their weapons and to return to their normal lives,” a statement from the governor’s office said.
Syrian state media said gunmen from the armed groups would start leaving Waer from next week with their families.
A source involved in Syria peace negotiations told Reuters before the deal was signed that the proposal had been on the table for several months. Around 10 days ago, the source said, the government signaled its willingness to the United Nations to sign it officially.
The deal would also allow humanitarian assistance to reach the district, the source said.
A spokeswoman for the U.N.’s Syria mediator, Staffan de Mistura, declined to comment.
The Homs negotiations follow the stalling of a separate plan aimed at halting fighting between rebels and government forces near Damascus.
Last month a powerful Syrian rebel group said it was studying the proposal put forward by an international mediator for the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area.
In late September, Iran and Turkey, which back opposing sides in the Syrian conflict, helped bring about local ceasefires in the town of Zabadani near the Lebanese border and in two villages in northwestern province of Idlib.
Writing by Sylvia Westall in Beirut, Additional reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva; Editing by Tom Heneghan