DAMASCUS, May 7 (Xinhua) -- The evacuation of rebel groups from the old city of Homs started Wednesday morning, said Talal Barazi, governor of Syria's central province of Homs.
Barazi said the rebels' evacuation from districts in the old quarters of Homs came after "finalizing all of the procedures in that regard," according to the official SANA news agency.
A settlement and reconciliation process is likely to start in old Homs in tandem with the rebel evacuation, but the governorate is working to institute such a process in all districts of Homs, not only the old ones, Barazi said.
Following the evacuation, Syrian army forces will enter old Homs and dismantle roadside bombs and sand barriers, SANA said, adding the army forces will take over the heavy weaponry of the rebels, who will be allowed to leave with light weapons only.
The evacuation was part of a deal concluded lately between the Syrian government and rebels in the old city of Homs, which has been besieged by government troops for two years. Barazi said earlier that the process had been prepared for over two months.
Meanwhile, the Lebanese al-Manar TV, which has close ties with the Syrian government, said that two buses carrying rebels left the old city of Homs for a rebel-held area in the northern countryside of Homs, in accordance with the deal, which was reportedly mediated by a Syria-based United Nations official.
The rebels have agreed upon a ceasefire following two weeks of heavy shelling by government troops on rebel-held districts in old Homs as the Syrian army started a wide-scale offensive to wrest back control over the few remaining rebel-held districts in old Homs in recent weeks.
The ceasefire and the rebel evacuation would be considered the latest victory of the Syrian army in Homs, allowing the Syrian troops to fully secure the city. Reports said that about 700 to 900 armed rebels, mostly Syrians, are stationing in old Homs.
Homs, Syria's third largest province, was one of the first provinces to sympathize with an anti-government movement in Syria. The rebels there took considerable swathes of land, but government troops have stripped them of their territory over the past year.
In tandem with the rebel evacuation of old Homs, other militant groups loosened their siege on two pro-government towns in the northern province of Aleppo to allow in relief aid, said al-Manar TV.
The Syrian crisis started in mid-March 2011, when anti- government protesters took to the streets calling for reforms, but rapidly evolved into a civil war, killing more than 150,000 people and displacing about one third of Syria's population.