Syria: evacuation of Homs under way
THE evacuation of Syrian rebels from their last stronghold in the central city of Homs appeared to be getting under way as several buses entered the besieged Old City district to ferry them out, activists said.
The withdrawal of more than 1,000 fighters from Homs is part of a complex deal with President Bashar al-Assad's forces that also involves easing a rebel siege on two northern Shi'ite Muslim towns loyal to Assad.
It will also mark the end of any rebel presence in the heart of a city once called the "capital of the revolution" against Assad, handing the president a major symbolic victory less than a month before he is likely to be elected for a third term.
A picture uploaded on the Internet showed two green buses driving through the dusty ruins of central Homs towards a collection point for the withdrawing rebel fighters.
Rami Abdelrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighters were expected to leave Homs city for rebel-held areas in northern Homs province.
Their departure would be staged over several phases, coordinated with the evacuation of some residents from Nubl and al-Zahraa in northern Syria, and the entry of humanitarian aid into those two Shi'ite towns.
More than 150,000 people have died in Syria's civil war. Millions more have fled their homes and the government has lost control of swathes of territory across the north and east. Fighting regularly kills more than 200 people a day.
Despite the carnage, Syrian authorities have scheduled presidential elections for June 3, a vote likely to give Assad a third term in office. Assad's opponents have dismissed the election as a farce.