Ceasefire in ravaged Syrian city
Published 02/05/2014 | 09:57
A ceasefire agreement has been reached in the central Syrian city of Homs, according to local activists and a Lebanese TV channel that supports president Bashar Assad's government.
The deal reportedly calls a truce between pro-Assad forces and rebels holed up in Homs' old quarters, said activist Beibars Tilawi and the Hezbollah-owned channel al-Manar.
Homs-based activist Mr Tilawi said that if it holds, hundreds of fighters will be allowed to leave Homs to head to rebel-controlled countryside north of the city.
The agreement could end the longest-running clashes between pro-government forces and rebels since the uprising against Assad's rule began in March 2013.
Earlier, 18 people, including 11 children, were killed in car bomb attacks in two Syrian villages, state-run television said.
Reports said the attacks took place in Jabreen and Humayri villages, which are under government control.
Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the group's activists counted at least 15 dead from the blasts.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombings, but al Qaida- affiliated rebels of the Nusra Front have claimed several car bombings in recent weeks.
Rights groups have condemned Assad's government and the rebels fighting to oust him for using weapons and attacks that overwhelmingly kill civilians.
The agreement would bring the country's third-largest city under control of loyalist forces, which would be a significant victory for Assad, weeks before presidential elections set for June 3.
Homs, in the central western plains of Syria, was one of the first cities to rise up against his rule three years ago, earning it the nickname of the "capital of the revolution". After waves of anti-Assad protests by its residents, it was the first city largely taken over by armed rebels as the uprising evolved into outright civil war.
Ever since, Assad's forces have been engaged in gruelling urban warfare trying to wrest it back. For months, rebels have been isolated and blockaded inside a string of Homs neighbourhoods centred around its historic old quarters, battered by heavy government air strikes and artillery.
Mr Tilawi said: "This isn't what we wanted. But it's all we could get."
The deal is also a face-saving measure for the rebels. It calls for a 48-hour truce in rebel-held parts of Homs, after which, hundreds of fighters holed up in the area will be evacuated to opposition-held areas north of the city, said Mr Tilawi.
The agreement came weeks after pro-government forces began heavily pounding rebel-held parts of Homs, which were already badly weakened by a blockade that had caused widespread hunger and suffering.
Rebels outside Homs did not come to the aid of the fighters within, and hundreds of fighters at the time surrendered to Assad-loyal forces, activists said.
But a hardcore group remained fighting, dispatching explosive-rigged cars into government-controlled areas, killing dozens of people, mostly civilians.
Most recently, a double car bombing on Tuesday killed more than 50 people in government-controlled areas of Homs.