Syrian residents walk past a placard bearing a portrait of President Bashar al-Assad in a government-controlled district of Homs on May 7, 2014.
Hundreds of rebel fighters have started evacuating the city of Homs, Syria, which is known as the "capital of the revolution," on Wednesday. The evacuation comes after the rebels and the government of President Bashar al-Assad reached a truce in Homs, brokered by the United Nations, last week. Homs is the third-largest city after Aleppo and Damascus, the city's capital.
The withdrawal from one of the main battlegrounds of the three-year civil war is a symbolic victory for Assad, just one month before he is likely to be re-elected. A total of around 1,900 people, including rebels, wounded fighters and their civilian relatives, are scheduled to leave the Old City of Homs, according to various news reports.
"Homs was a key contested area and for the regime taking it has strategic benefit," Andrew Tabler, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, toldMashable. "But how effectively can they hold it going forward?"
The civil war in Syria has left more than 100,000 dead across the country, with more than 2,500 in Homs alone, according to local activists. After three years of fighting, siege and government bombardment, the Old City of Homs, where fighters had been holding out for months, has practically been leveled and left in ruins. Thousands have been forced to flee.
On Wednesday, a fleet of buses arrived to take the people evacuating the old city to a rebel-held area on the outskirts of Homs. Pictures and videos posted on social media showed the devastation that Homs has suffered.
The rebels seemed resigned as more than 100 people boarded the first wave of buses.
"This is a day that we thought would never come," an activist from a district near the Old City of Homs said, according to The Guardian. "We had fought so hard and for so long, but no one came to help us. We were left to ourselves."
As part of the truce, rebels were allowed to leave the besieged city peacefully under the supervision of regime forces and UN delegates; they were also permitted to keep their personal weapons. The rebels promised to open a safe passage to allow for food and medical aid to reach the government-controlled enclaves of Nubul and Zahraa outside the northern city of Aleppo, another big battleground. For months, rebels had blocked access to these two cities.
To uphold its end of the deal, the government promised to grant amnesty to 50 people who defected from the regime to the rebel forces in Homs. The government also promised not to arrest the rebels once they reached regime checkpoints; earlier this year, a more limited evacuation led to the detainment of several rebels at checkpoints.
Life on Wednesday presented a stark contrast in different areas of Homs:
Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.