Opposition fighters, their families and other civilians began leaving their last bastion in the Syrian city of Homs today, state media and a Reuters witness said, under an evacuation deal with the government expected to be among the largest of its kind.
The first few buses carrying opposition members and their families drove out of the long-besieged Al-Waer district in the morning, heading for opposition-held areas northeast of Aleppo city.
Homs governor Talal Barazi told Reuters around 1,500 people would depart for the Aleppo countryside on Saturday, including at least 400 fighters.
Russian and Syrian regime forces were overseeing the evacuation, and the full departure of rebels from Al-Waer would take about six weeks, he said.
"The preparations and the reality on the ground indicate that things will go well," Barazi said.
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Dictator Bashar Al-Assad's regime has increasingly tried to press besieged opposition areas to surrender and accept what it calls "reconciliation agreements" that involve fighters departing for northern Syria.
Such deals normally come after months of heavy bombardment with artillery, barrel bombs and Russian aircraft.
The Assad regime describes such deals as a good way of bringing the country closer to peace after six years of conflict. But the opposition decries them as a tactic of forcibly displacing people who oppose Al-Assad after years of bombardment and siege.
Under the Al-Waer deal, between 10,000 and 15,000 people would evacuate in batches over the coming weeks, according to a war monitor and the opposition Homs Media Center.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a Britain-based monitoring group, said the buses would go to the Jarablus area in the north, held by Turkey-backed fighters.
Once completed, it would mark the biggest evacuation during the war out of one Syrian district, which is home to about 40,000 civilians and more than 2,500 fighters, the monitoring group said.
The deal follows other agreements that were never fully implemented between the government and opposition groups in Al-Waer, which has been pounded by airstrikes in recent weeks.