DAMASCUS, May 9 (Xinhua) -- The evacuation of the Syrian armed opposition groups and civilians from the old city of Syria's Homs is still ongoing, said Talal Barazi, governor of the central province of Homs.
The evacuation process will continue until it's finished, Barazi stressed on Friday, adding that communications in that regard are still incessant.
The rebels' evacuation from the besieged old city of Homs is a part of a deal concluded recently between the Syrian government troops and the armed militant groups under the mediation of a Syria-based UN official.
Barazi, however, remained tight-lipped about the details of the deal and the number of those who have evacuated so far.
The deal went into effect earlier last week with a ceasefire that was followed on Wednesday with the departure of around 968 rebels and civilians from districts of old Homs to the rebel-held town of al-Dar al-Kabira in the northern countryside of Homs, according to local media reports.
Under the deal, thousands of rebels holed up in the besieged part of Homs were set to abandon their positions in the Jouret al- Shaiyah, Qarabis, Qusur, Hamidiyeh, and Wadi al-Sayeh neighborhoods in old Homs, reports said.
In exchange, the rebels agreed to break their siege on the pro- government towns of Nubul and Zahra in the northern province of Aleppo to allow in relief aid convoys, and to release government- loyal people and soldiers they had kidnapped before.
Meanwhile, the pan-Arab al-Mayadeen TV said on Friday that a total of 1,823 rebel fighters out of 2,183 have so far been evacuated, adding that around 360 others are still inside the old city awaiting their evacuation.
The TV said there have been some hiccups regarding the evacuation of the last batch of rebels from old Homs after some rebel groups in Aleppo prevented the entry of aid convoys to Nubul and Zahra towns.
On Thursday, Yakoub al-Hilo, a UN official overseeing the process in Homs, reportedly said that both parties of the deal are showing full commitment to get the deal done.
He said that the UN mediation came upon the request of both the government and the armed rebels.
Meanwhile, a Xinhua cameraman in Homs said that the areas in old Homs are largely devastated as destruction scenes are everywhere. He said black smoke bellowed parts of old Homs on Friday, in what some officials there said that the rebels were burning down their positions before abandoning them.
The old city of Homs, which constitutes of many ancient neighborhoods, has been besieged by the government troops since two years ago. The Syrian army has recently unleashed an offensive to recapture the few remaining rebel-held areas in old Homs.
However, the deal has secured the government control over the area and evacuation of the rebels without bloodshed.
Following the full evacuation of the rebels from old Homs, the Syrian army forces will enter the areas and dismantle roadside bombs and sand barriers, local media said, adding that the army forces will take over the rebels' heavy weaponry, allowing them to leave with light weapons only.
After the full evacuation, the entire city of Homs would be under government control except the al-Waer neighborhood, whose rebels have rejected to join the deal. Yet, local media said efforts are still being exerted to conclude a similar deal with the rebels in al-Waer.
The ceasefire and the rebels' evacuation could be considered the latest victory of the Syrian army in Homs. However, most areas of the northern countryside of Homs are still under the rebels' control, namely Talbiseh, Rastan and al-Dar al-Kabira.
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.
Fully securing Homs is crucial for the administration of President Bashar al-Assad ahead of the June 3 presidential elections, because of the strategic location of Homs in central Syria and on the international road that connects the capital Damascus with the central and northern region.
The Syrian crisis started in mid-March 2011 when anti- government protesters took to the streets calling for reforms. But it rapidly evolved into a civil war that has so far killed more than 150,000 people and displaced about one third of Syria's population.
Photo>>>986 rebels evacuate Syria's Homs in ceasefire deal
Rebels start evacuation from Syria's Homs
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. Full story