Middle East

Syria conflict: Government troops move into Homs Old City

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Media captionBBC 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.

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."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Syrian government forces have taken up positions and begun sweeping for explosives
Image copyright AP
Image caption Civilians returned to the city to see what remained of their homes
Image copyright AP
Image caption 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.

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.

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