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Last batch of rebels evacuate Syria's Homs

2018-05-16 21:09:25 (Beijing Time)         news.xinhuanet.com

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Syrian boys play on a damaged car in the city of Talbiseh, in the northern countryside of Homs province in central Syria, on May 16, 2018. The last batch of rebels and their families has been evacuated Wednesday out of Syria's central province of Homs, local officials told Xinhua. (Xinhua/Hummam Sheikh Ali)

HOMS, Syria, May 16 (Xinhua) -- The last batch of rebels and their families has been evacuated Wednesday out of Syria's central province of Homs, local officials told Xinhua.

The seventh and final batch of 3,950 rebels and their families was bused out of two major cities and surrounding villages in the northern countryside of Homs on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The evacuation also included rebels in the adjacent southern countryside of Hama Province.

More than 27,000 rebels and their families have left the countrysides of Homs and Hama since the evacuation in these areas started last week.

Hama still has rebel positions in its northern countryside, while Homs is now completely cleared of all rebel groups.

In Homs, the cities of Rastan and Talbiseh were the major strongholds for rebel groups and became the first two areas in the province to fall out of the government control in 2012.

The rebel evacuation, which was under a Russian-mediated deal, is considered a great victory for Syrian government army due to the strategic location of the two cities.

Talbiseh and Rastan are close to the road linking Homs with Hama and Aleppo in northern Syria as well as the rebel-held province of Idlib in northwestern Syria.

Talal Barazi, governor of Homs, told reporters in Rastan that the entire province is now empty of rebels.

"With the liberation of Rastan and Talbiseh and surrounding villages, the entire Homs Province, with all of its areas, has become safe without exceptions," Barazi said.

Rastan and Talbiseh are the links between Homs and Hama and "the return of normal life to these areas is the return of peace and security and thus the return of economic and social capabilities," he added.

The governor noted that Homs has a significant point on the international highway linking Damascus with northern Syria.

"The road from Homs to Hama will be opened in a few days," Barazi noted.

In the two cities, hundreds of people gathered in the squares and streets on Wednesday, welcoming the arrival of the Syrian government forces.

The Syrian flag was also raised on the municipal buildings in both cities by the government law enforcement forces.

The rebels that evacuated Rastan and Talbiseh are those refusing to reconcile with the government, while those agreeing to live under the government control remain in the two areas.

The people in Rastan held posters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian flags, and chanted support of Assad during the ceremony of raising the Syrian flag over the municipal building, which was largely destroyed.

In addition, truckloads of aid were quick to reach the cities, bringing food and cooking gas for the people who had lived under the rebels' control for seven years.

Also on the day, the Syrian army said in a statement that the 1,200 sq km of the countryside of Homs and Hama were liberated.

It said 65 towns were secured after the evacuation of the rebels, who had surrendered their heavy and medium weapons ahead of withdrawal.

"The liberation of the northern countryside of Homs and the southern countryside of Hama is a big achievement as the armed terrorism has been unrooted from these areas in central Syria, which constitutes a crossroad between various Syrian provinces," the army said.

The army also stressed its determination to continue fight against terrorist groups across Syria.

The evacuation deal in the countrysides of Homs and Hama was reached between the rebels and the government on May 1, while the evacuation started on May 8.

The deal is identical to other agreements recently reached in Damascus, which saw the evacuation of rebels from the Eastern Ghouta countryside and the eastern part of the Qalamoun region to Idlib and Jarablus in April.