A 45-bus convoy carrying up to 2,000 opposition fighters and residents arrived in Idlib province early Sunday morning, the third round of evacuations in as many weeks from the long-disputed Waer district of Homs city.
The departure follows a regime offensive on the encircled district, which killed dozens of residents and brought a defeated rebel negotiating team to the table to surrender last month.
In accordance with the terms of the Waer agreement some 10,000 to 15,000 residents out of a total of 50,000 are expected to leave Waer in coming weeks. The evacuees will head to either Idlib province, the regime-encircled north Homs countryside or the northern Aleppo city of Jarablus.
The first two evacuations from al-Waer headed to Jarablus. But the convoy that left Saturday night took a different route. The buses drove roughly 145 kilometers north, to Maarat al-Ikhwan, a village in often-bombed, rebel-held Idlib province.
The population of Idlib has swelled in recent months as groups of evacuess from formerly rebel-held towns across western Syria arrive in the province following surrender deals with the Syrian government.
Hay’at Tahrir a-Sham fighters receive Waer evacuees in the east Hama countryside Saturday night. Photo courtesy of Ebaa News Agency.
In Idlib, the Waer evacuees face the prospect of homelessness, high prices and near-constant airstrikes from coalition, Russian and regime warplanes.
One of those who went to Idlib anyways is Abu Maen, 39, who left Waer on Saturday evening, in what is likely to be a one-way trip to Idlib province with his wife and four children.
“Staying in Waer was too big a price,” the former grocery store owner told Syria Direct’s Bahira al-Zarier just hours after arriving in Idlib on Sunday.
“I decided to go to Idlib because I plan to leave with my family to Turkey,” he added. “Unfortunately, nowhere in Syria is safe any longer.”
Q: You had the opportunity to accept the regime’s amnesty and continue living in your house in Waer. Why did you choose to leave?
The revolution was never about having a fancy home or a pleasant, carefree life. When we first took to the streets, our goal was to reclaim our rights: freedom, dignity and justice.
As such, staying in Waer was too big a price to pay even if it meant, in theory, the promise of security. Staying meant accepting the regime’s amnesty. But, more importantly, it meant retreating from the principles of the revolution, the same principles for which so many people died and lost their homes. It meant returning to the regime and their laws. It meant conscription and fighting against our brothers who also rose up for the sake of freedom. All of this is to say nothing of the fact that nothing the regime does, nothing they say, can be trusted.
I decided to leave with my family, to accept a life of homelessness, suffering, bombing and hunger because that to me is preferable to a comfortable life with no dignity. It’s far better than betraying the detainees who we gave up on [with this deal] and all those who sacrificed their lives since the beginning of the revolution for the same principles.
Waer residents wait to board evacuation buses on March 27. Photo courtesy of Judy Arash/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.
Q: Over the past year, we’ve spoken with dozens of civilians displaced to Idlib following a forced surrender. Time and again, we hear stories of exorbitantly high prices for everyday goods, a lack of basic services and the near-constant fear of bombardment. With this in mind, why didn’t you choose to go to either the north Homs countryside or Jarablus?
With regard to the north Homs countryside, things there are no different. It, too, is bombed and suffers from a stranglehold of encirclement.
Regarding Jarablus, I spoke with a number of people from Waer who went there, and across the board they advised me not to come because they said the situation is so bad.
And so I decided to go to Idlib because I plan to leave with my family to Turkey. Unfortunately, nowhere is safe in Syria any longer. My children are tired of a life of war and displacement.