The Syrian rebel army opposing current President Bashar al-Assad has fled Homs, once a stronghold for opposition forces.
On Wednesday morning, the first of hundreds of opposition fighters left Homs after an agreement was secured between the two warring sides to allow for their safe passage out of the city. By 4 p.m. local time, the New York Times reported the last of the remaining rebel forces were wrapping up their departure from Homs.
Syria’s election is set to occur in a few weeks. Bashar al-Assad is well positioned to win another term, as only two other candidates were selectively allowed on the ballot.
According to Reuters, the deal includes the release of government backed forces in Aleppo and Latakia. In addition, for their safe passage out of Homs, the opposition forces must stop their incursion into northern Shiite towns. Activists told Reuters roughly 1,900 people were being evacuated. An estimated 600 of that number accounted for wounded opposition soldiers and their relatives. Reuters observed that most of the people fleeing Homs “appeared to be fit men of fighting age.”
The rebel fighters were reportedly only allowed to carry their rifle and one bag of their belongings out of Homs to accompany them. Buses were limited from carrying sophisticated weaponry. Only one machine gun and one RPG (rocket-propelled-grenade launcher) were allowed on each bus.
“The rest of the world has failed us,” a rebel activist said as he departed Homs. Another anti-government rebel was devastated by the move, he exclaimed that he “felt his soul being pulled out of his body as he left Homs.” Another insurgent, upset the world community was not more active in helping rebel forces said, “May God not forgive the neglectful people who let us down. We lost Homs.” “Its over, but jihad will continue,” said another fighter.
The opposition forces, although outnumbered and outgunned, had previously held onto Homs as a strategic city for more than a year. The first batch of opposition fighters traveled 12 miles north of Homs to the rebel-held strongholds of Tabisah and Dar al-Kabrira.
The deal was reportedly brokered by the United Nations after months of negotiations.
Homs is the third most populated city in Syria. It is approximately 60 miles from Syria’s capital, Damascus. The Syrian opposition frequently called Homs “The capital of the revolution.”
More than 150,000 people have been killed since the beginning of 2011 in Syria’s Civil War.