Saturday, May 3, 2014
Syrian regime retakes control of Homs, ceasefire allows opposition fighters to withdraw
Opposition fighters are to be allowed to withdraw from besieged parts of the Syrian city of Homs under a deal with the government, reports say. Rebels will be allowed to pull back to opposition-held areas north of Homs, activists say. The Syrian government has not commented on the reports.
Fighters have held areas around the Old City despite a two-year siege. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based activist group, said about 1,000 fighters were expected to pull out from rebel-held areas of Homs under the terms of a ceasefire. "Those leaving will be able to keep their weapons," Homs activist Thaer al-Khalidiyeh told AFP news agency.
The SOHR said rebels will be allowed to withdraw to the north of the province, while the army will take control of areas of the Old City which they have vacated.
The withdrawal is expected to be supervised by a UN delegation and the government reconciliation committee. Syrian Red Crescent ambulances will also evacuate the injured from the Old City area under the terms of the 48-hour deal, and rebels will release an Iranian officer they are holding prisoner.
Activists inside the city told Al Jazeera they blame a punishing siege and the lack of international assistance for the rebel agreement to withdraw. They could not hold aout any longer and were simply to hungry and to weak to continue fighting The city is strategically important as it connects government strongholds along the western coast with the capital, Damascus.
The city has seen some of the worst fighting in the three years of the Syrian conflict. In February, hundreds of civilians - many ill and starved - were evacuated from Homs Old City after the UN negotiated a temporary ceasefire between rebels and Syrian forces.
In another development, Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri said that the entry of Al-Qaeda Iraq into Syria's civil war caused "a political disaster" for Islamist militants there. In a video message he urged the faction to redouble its efforts in Iraq instead. Zawahri has repeatedly tried to end infighting between the Islamic State in Iraq and the the Levant (ISIL) and another al Qaeda-aligned group, the Nusra Front.
He said on Friday in a message translated by SITE Monitoring that if ISIL had accepted his decision not to get involved in Syria and had instead worked to "busy itself with Iraq, which needs double its efforts" then it could have avoided the "waterfall of blood" caused by militant infighting.
ISIL militants joined the conflict in Syria last year and unilaterally declared they were taking over the Nusra Front, which had won the admiration of many rebels fighting Syria's President Bashar al-Assad for its battlefield prowess.