AMMAN: A month-old truce agreement between the residents of Homs city’s last rebel-held district and regime forces has entered its second-phase, stipulating that rebels relinquish certain weapons in exchange for the release of at least 7,000 government detainees, a rebel negotiator from al-Waer told Syria Direct on Thursday.
“In our meeting at the end of last week, the regime said that they would allow the entrance of humanitarian aid and on Tuesday we handed over a list of 7,000 detainees to begin the second phase of the truce,” said the rebel negotiator from al-Waer who has regularly updated Syria Direct on details of the truce.
The regime allowed the entrance of 28 UN and Syrian Red Crescent aid trucks into the district this week, whose remaining 75,000 residents have been surrounded by regime forces since November 2013, Arabic news site al-Wafad reported Tuesday.
“Life is slowly returning to the neighborhood,” Abu Jalal al-Ghantawi, a resident of Waer, says in a news report video posted to YouTube by Smart News on Thursday.
A shopkeeper in Waer. Photo courtesy of Smart News
“After five months under siege, merchandise can now enter the city and we have started working again,” says a shop owner in the same report, pointing to a fresh supply of black olives.
In addition to aid, some commercial and food items have been allowed to enter the city “through Duwwar al-Mohendiseen,” said the rebel negotiator, referring to the only checkpoint connecting Waer to the rest of Homs city.
The regime still maintains tight control over the entrance of olives and everything else into Waer via al-Mohendiseen. For now, not everything is being allowed in.
Items such as salt, canned foods and certain types of meat remain banned from entering the neighborhood. Meanwhile, residents who wish to leave Waer endure “long interrogations” while many are “barred” from leaving altogether, says the negotiator.
Waer has been completely surrounded by regime forces for more than two years. It is the only remaining rebel holdout district in Homs city after opposition fighters left Old Homs as part of a truce deal in May 2014.
Previous attempts to reach a reconciliation were scuttled either by regime shelling of the Waer or by mysterious bombings carried out in nearby pro-regime Alawite neighborhoods of Homs, such as the twin Akrama bombings that targeted a primary school in October 2014, killing dozens of children.
Earlier this month, the truce appeared to be on the brink of collapse, with residents reporting mistreatment of civilians and the hindrance of aid shipments by the regime. In one incident, pro-regime militias killed rebels from the al-Huda al-Islamiya Brigade, that subsequently reported it would not abide by the agreement.
Residents acknowledge “progress” with the truce, but trust for the regime battling them for years does not come easily.
“We are relatively happy with the truce’s progress, however, we are still cautious going forward because we have seen the regime break the truce’s terms before and we expect them to do so again,” Waer resident Walid a-Samra told Syria Direct on Thursday.
“We are sticking with the truce despite the regime's infractions with the hope that it will succeed and hunger will not return to Waer,” said resident Abu Marai.