BEIRUT The planned evacuation of several hundred Syrian rebels from their last foothold in the city of Homs began on Thursday, with around 120 fighters and their families scheduled to leave by bus, witnesses and state media said.
The fighters, carrying their personal weapons, and their families will head from the al-Waer neighbourhood to the rebel-held northern Homs countryside, then travel on to rebel-held Idlib province, Homs Governor Talal Barazi said on Thursday.
The evacuation is part of the Syrian government's attempts to conclude local agreements with rebels in besieged areas that have resulted in rebels being given safe passage to insurgent-controlled areas.
Rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad say the agreements are part of a government strategy to forcibly displace populations from opposition-held areas after years of siege and bombardment.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates several thousand rebel fighters remain in Waer.
Barazai has said Waer contains around 40,000 civilians and 800 fighters. He expects the neighbourhood to be free of weapons and fighters in around 20 to 25 days, if all goes according to plan.
The latest evacuation of fighters from Waer was postponed from Monday, and the rebels were originally expected to head to the insurgent stronghold of Idlib province in northwestern Syria.
(Reporting by Reuters TV in Homs; Writing by Lisa Barrington in Beirut; Editing by Larry King)