Syrian regime forces seize last rebel enclave in Homs

Syrian regime forces seize last rebel enclave in Homs
3 min read
Syrian regime forces are in full control of the last rebel enclave in Homs, as rebel fighters and civilians leave the province.
Now partly in ruins, Homs has been called the cradle of the Syrian revolution [Getty]

Syrian regime forces are in full control of the last rebel enclave in Syria's largest province following the evacuation of thousands of fighters and civilians, an officer told state-run TV Tuesday.

The rebels have agreed to surrender the northern countryside region of Homs province to the government under a deal reached in early May.

According to the deal, thousands of rebels and civilians who refuse to live under government control were to be evacuated to other rebel-held areas in the country's north.

State media and activists say more than 27,000 civilians and gunmen have left the northern countryside of Homs in the past few days, the latest in a string of capitulation deals by the rebels around the country.

In a major victory for the Syrian regime, following Russian-sponsored mediation the rebels agreed to evacuate their territories in early May.

The northern rural Homs deal came days after rebels cleared their last remaining strongholds around the capital Damascus. The government troops and allied fighters continue to battle the remaining Islamic State group fighters in a pocket south of Damascus.

A Syrian security officer told state-run al-Ikhbariya TV on Tuesday that police began deploying in northern rural Homs, restoring regime control.

"We declare from the area that we have triumphed over terrorism and we declare that we have overpowered terrorism from Homs province," the unnamed officer told Al-Ikhbariya.

"Starting today, northern rural Homs will begin to return to normal life."

The Syrian regime uses "terrorists" as a catch-all term for all its opponents, who include both moderate rebels and Islamists.

Rebels were in control of northern rural Homs for years.

Al-Ikhariya TV showed Syrian government forces men raising the country's official flag over a building in a village in northern Homs.

Videos shared on social media showed vehicles carrying the Russian flag accompanying the deployment. According to the agreement, Russia military police were to deploy in the evacuated areas.

Activists said the deployment began in smaller villages in northern Homs, but it was not clear when it would begin in larger towns such as Houla, in northern Homs province.

Rebels were in control of northern rural Homs for years.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more evacuations are expected Tuesday.

A group of US-backed rebels have a base in southern Homs near the border with Iraq.

The Syrian conflict began when the Baath regime, in power since 1963 and led by President Bashar al-Assad, responded with military force to peaceful protests demanding democratic reforms during the Arab Spring wave of uprisings, triggering an armed rebellion fuelled by mass defections from the Syrian army.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed in the war, mostly by the regime and its powerful allies, and millions have been displaced both inside and outside of Syria.

The brutal tactics pursued by the regime, which have included the use of chemical weapons, sieges, mass executions and torture against civilians amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, according to rights groups.