March 27, 2017 / 9:53 AM / 7 months ago

Syrian rebels resume withdrawal from last Homs bastion: monitor

Rebel fighters and their families evacuate the Waer district in the central Syrian city of Homs. SANA/Handout via REUTERS

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Hundreds of rebels left their last bastion in Syria’s Homs city on Monday, resuming an evacuation expected to be among the largest of its kind under a Russian-backed deal with the government, state media and a monitor said.

Heavy fighting between rebel groups and the army further north in Hama province over the weekend had delayed their departure from the city’s al-Waer district, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The evacuation began last week with the Syrian government shuttling hundreds of people from the district in Homs, which was an early center of the 2011 uprising that spiraled into war.

Between 10,000-15,000 rebels and civilians were expected to leave in weekly batches, the Observatory and opposition activists have said.

Although rebels launched their biggest offensive in months last week, they have been on the back foot in Syria since Russia intervened on the side of President Bashar al-Assad’s government in the autumn of 2015.

Over the past year, the government has accelerated its drive to push rebel-held pockets to surrender under evacuation deals similar to the one in force in Homs.

Homs governor Talal Barazi said he expected nearly 1,600 people to depart on Monday for areas held by Turkey-backed rebels north of Aleppo.

“We will complete this before sunset,” he told Syrian state television, which reported that several hundred people had left so far, including more than 250 rebels.

Russian and Syrian forces were overseeing the process, which would take about six weeks in total, Barazi added.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitoring group, has said that about 40,000 civilians and more than 2,500 fighters live in besieged al-Waer.

Reporting by Ellen Francis; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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