Syrian army takes control of Homs as rebels leave
Rubble cleared from streets of war-torn city as residents allowed to return to their homes
Bulldozers cleared rubble yesterday from the streets of battle-scarred districts in the central Syrian city of Homs after government troops entered the last rebel-held neighbourhoods as part of an agreement that also granted opposition fighters safe exit from the city.
The government quickly forged ahead even as another aspect of the negotiated deal hung in the balance. The departure of a last batch of some 300 fighters waiting to leave for rebel-held areas north of Homs had been delayed after opposition fighters in northern Syrian prevented aid from reaching besieged pro-government villages.
The aid delivery to the communities of Nubul and Zahra in Aleppo province was part of the agreement allowing rebels to leave Homs.
Some 1,700 rebels have left Homs since Wednesday under the deal struck by the government and opposition. The withdrawal, which brought an end to a fierce, two-year battle for the heart of the city, marked a major victory for President Bashar al-Assad in the civil war.
For Syria’s rebels, it was a devastating blow. The deal handed Assad control of the city once known as “the capital of the revolution,” as well as a geographic linchpin from which to launch offensives on rebel-held territory in northern Syria.
Homs governor Talal Barazi said that engineering units were combing the old neighbourhoods of the city yesterday, including the former opposition stronghold of Hamidiyeh, in search of mines and other explosives. State television said two soldiers were killed while dismantling a bomb.
An Associated Press reporter in Homs on a military-led tour said soldiers and pro-government militiamen had fanned out across the districts to provide security.
In the mainly Christian neighbourhood of Hamadiyeh, a few people trickled back in to check on properties that had long been on the other side of the front line.
Imad Nanaa, 52, returned to check on his home for the first time in almost three years. To his surprise, he found it almost intact, compared to other crumbling houses. “This deal has saved us from even more blood and destruction,” he said.
People returning had to hand over their IDs to the troops upon entering the formerly rebel-held districts. The soldiers then returned the papers as the people filed out later.