Syria conflict: Government troops move into Homs Old City

BBC Arabic filmed the devastation inside Syria's Old City of Homs

Syrian forces have moved into previously rebel-held areas of Homs after the evacuation of opposition fighters following a two-year siege.

Troops have begun sweeping the Old City for explosives, state media quoted Homs Governor Talal al-Barazi as saying.

UN sources have told the BBC the evacuation is complete after the departure of a final convoy of rebels.

Some 2,000 fighters and their relatives are believed to have left since Wednesday.

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Above all, the rebels leaving Homs seemed tired. That is not surprising after being cut-off for two years, but it is a feeling you hear expressed more and more often ”

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The UN-supervised evacuation marks the end of three years of resistance in Homs, once dubbed the "capital of the revolution".

'Nothing left'

Much of Homs fell to the opposition in 2011, but over the past two years government forces have gradually regained control by subjecting areas once home to tens of thousands of people to continuous siege and bombardment.

Civilians began returning the devastated zone of the Old City on Friday to find what remained of their homes, reports say.

One woman emerged from her home carrying a stack of photo albums. "I have nothing left for me to remember so I brought these photos,'' she told the Associated Press. "My house was destroyed."

Government forces are seen in al-Hamdeya neighbourhood in Homs on 9 May 2014 Syrian government forces have taken up positions and begun sweeping for explosives
Syrian civilians walk through a city square as they return to Homs on 9 May 2014 Civilians returned to the city to see what remained of their homes
Buses carrying rebels from the Old City of Homs travel through the Khalidiya district (7 May 2014) Buses began transporting the rebels to rebel-held territory north of Homs on Wednesday morning

Government forces took full control of the heart of Homs on Thursday, state media said, after rebels in the Old City boarded buses and were transported to rebel-held territory to the north.

Battle for Homs

  • March 2011: Anti-government protests erupt in Homs within weeks of them beginning in Deraa
  • May 2011: Tanks sent into Homs to suppress the dissent; opposition supporters take up arms and oust security forces from several areas
  • February-March 2012: Military launches operation designed to crush the resistance in Homs; Baba Amr district subjected to month of relentless bombardment before rebels withdraw
  • May 2012: Between 15% and 20% of Homs under opposition control, including Old City
  • March 2013: Government launches major offensive to consolidate its control of Homs
  • July 2013: Rebels leave Khalidiya district after government assault including Hezbollah fighters
  • January 2014: Only Old City still held by rebels; up to 3,000 civilians trapped there, without access to food and medical supplies
  • February 2014: UN-Red Crescent operation evacuates 1,400 people from rebel-held areas
  • May 2014: Rebel fighters evacuated from Old City

The withdrawal is part of a deal struck between the government and opposition forces, reportedly mediated by the Iranian ambassador to Syria.

UN sources in Homs told the BBC a final group of 360 fighters had left the city on seven buses on Friday.

Their departure had reportedly been delayed after opposition fighters in northern Syrian prevented aid from reaching besieged pro-government villages.

'Secure city'

The aid delivery to the two predominantly Shia towns in the north - Nubul and Zahraa - was part of the agreement allowing rebels to leave Homs.

It will also see rebels release 70 captives in Aleppo and Latakia provinces.

State media quoted Mr Barazi as saying government troops had entered the Old City of Homs and began clearing it of explosives on Friday.

The governor earlier said Homs would be declared a "secure city" once the UN-supervised evacuation was complete, and that reconstruction would begin immediately.

There is now only one district in Homs - al-Wair in the north-western outskirts - that is still controlled by the opposition.

More than 150,000 people are believed to have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. Another nine million have fled their homes.

Despite the conflict, the Syrian government is planning to hold a presidential election on 3 June. The opposition have dismissed the poll, which Mr Assad is widely expected to win, as a farce.

Map of Homs, showing Old Homs

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