Forces Set To Control Homs, Cradle Of Syrian Uprising
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[May 08, 2014]
By Oliver Holmes
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian forces say they
will take full control on Thursday over Homs, a city once associated
with scenes of joyous pro-democracy crowds but now famed for images of
ruin that epitomize the brutality of Syria's civil war.
After holding the Old City of Homs for nearly two years, more than
900 rebel fighters, some limping their way onto buses, made their
way out of the "capital of the revolution" in several convoys on
They were driven to rebel-held territory outside the city under a
deal agreed between the insurgents and forces loyal to President
Homs provincial governor Talal Barazi told state media 80 percent of
the fighters had left and the rest would be evacuated on Thursday
after which the centre of Homs would be "declared a secure city" and
reconstruction would commence.
Rebels smiled to cameras as they left but the fall of Syria's third
largest city to government forces is a major blow to the opposition
and a boon for Assad weeks before his likely re-election.
When thousands of Syrians took to the streets of Homs in 2011, it
electrified the nation and anti-Assad demonstrations erupted in
every major city. Government forces cracked down on the
religiously-mixed city with batons and live ammunition.
Mortar bombs were fired on protests in Homs and the revolution
became armed. Rebel groups spread through the city as civilians fled
or cowered in the basements of battered buildings. A year ago,
government forces laid siege to the Old City and residents said they
State television broadcast footage on Thursday of a reporter,
without body-amour, standing in the rain in the deserted centre of
Homs interviewing governor Barazi, who said the remaining fighters
would be evacuated in the next few hours.
Behind them, not one building had been spared by the bullets,
mortars and bombs of nearly three years of fighting. Some were
The evacuation comes after months of gains by the army, backed by
its Lebanese militant ally Hezbollah, along a strategic corridor of
territory linking the capital Damascus with Homs and Assad's Alawite
heartland on the Mediterranean.
Assad's forces now control most of the capital, along with the main
highway from Damascus through to Homs and the western Mediterranean
coast. Rebels control much of the desert in the north and east while
Syria's second city, Aleppo, is contested.
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At the same time as rebels were evacuated from Homs, dozens of
captives held by rebels in the northern provinces of Aleppo and
Latakia were freed as part of the same deal.
Governor Barazi said 70 people abducted by rebels were released,
including 5 children and 17 women.
But a planned relief convoy trying to reach two rebel-blockaded
Shi'ite towns outside Aleppo - also part of the deal - was turned
back by fighters from al Qaeda's Nusra Front on Wednesday. It was
not clear if the aid had moved on Thursday.
Assad is widely expected to be the runaway victor in the June 3
presidential vote, which his opponents have dismissed as a charade.
They say no credible election can be held in a country fractured by
civil war, with swathes of territory outside government control, 6
million people displaced and another 2.5 million refugees abroad.
More than 150,000 people have died in the conflict. Millions more
have fled their homes and fighting regularly kills more than 200
people a day.
(Editing by Philippa Fletcher)
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