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“The ring around us is tightening”: Old Homs rebels prepare to withdraw


May 4, 2014

WAITING TO WITHDRAW: After nearly two years of blockade around 1,000 rebel troops and residents are preparing to withdraw from Old Homs, surrendering the neighborhoods once referred to as “the capital of the revolution” to government forces.

“We reject the truce, exiting Old Homs and leaving it to the government, but this has been imposed on us,” said a doctor in one of the 13 encircled districts in an interview with pro-opposition Souria Mubashir Sunday.

But two days into a ceasefire, he said, his community is left with no choice. “The ring around us is tightening, and there is no food, ammunition or life necessities,” he added.

The precise terms of the United Nations-brokered truce remain unclear. Rebels will evacuate to rebel-held northern Homs province, carrying with them “light weaponry and half of their ammunition,” pro-opposition Hassan Abu al-Zein told Syria Direct.

As part of the agreement, the Syrian government will reportedly allow the entry of humanitarian aid into the neighboring government-encircled, rebel-held district of al-Waer, home to hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians.

Al-Zein insisted the Islamic Front had represented rebels in the negotiations, reportedly “agreeing to free a number of Iranian and Hezbollah combatants” in addition to permitting humanitarian aid reach the towns of of a-Zahra and Nabl in Aleppo province.

Forty-eight hours after the ceasefire began on Friday, the truce remained in place as rebels prepared to withdraw “in a number of hours,” al-Zein said.

 “There are logistical obstacles to executing the agreement as a result of the number of brigades inside the besieged neighborhoods of the Old City and neighboring al-Waer,” Homs governor Talal al-Barazi told official government news agency SANA Saturday. “80 percent of those inside the neighborhoods want to surrender themselves and are in conflict with Jabhat a-Nusra.”

“What is happening now in the negotiations to rid the Old City of Homs from weapons and armed men comes amidst the efforts of the Syrian government to restore safety and security to all of Syria,” he added.

Meanwhile, opposition and rebel groups questioned whether the Syrian government or its National Defense Forces militia would uphold the terms of the truce.

“It is the United Nation’s duty to ensure the regime’s commitment to the truce it signed,” the opposition Syrian National Coalition said in a statement published online Sunday. The pro-opposition Local Coordination Committees reported Saturday government snipers had fired into al-Waer.

In early February, a temporary, United Nations-brokered truce allowed 1,400 citizens to evacuate from and some humanitarian aid to enter the neighborhoods, where citizens had been reduced to subsisting on boiled leaves amidst widespread starvation.

As conditions worsened in the months that followed, dozens of individual rebels surrendered.

In mid-April, the Syrian government made a final push to seize the neighborhoods by force intensified shelling on Homs’ historic core. Rebels successfully counter-attacked, advancing into neighboring Jeb al-Jandali, before a retreat reportedly due to a lack of manpower.

The Syrian government encircled the neighborhoods on June 12, 2012. If the agreement is upheld and rebels withdraw, the Syrian government will gain almost complete control of Homs, Syria’s third largest city, where a violent crackdown on fervent anti-regime protests marked a turning point toward armed armed-conflict in early 2011.

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