Rebels evacuated from Homs, cradle of Syrian uprising

Syrian rebels started withdrawing from the heart of Homs city on Wednesday, leaving an early center of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad and handing him a symbolic victory less than a month before his likely re-election.
Two buses carrying the first of many hundreds of fighters left the besieged city center in an evacuation agreed between insurgents and forces loyal to Assad.
The deal also includes the release of captives held by rebels in Aleppo and Latakia provinces and the easing of a rebel siege of two Shia towns in northern Syria.
The overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim fighters had held out in the Old City of Homs and neighboring districts despite being undersupplied, outgunned and subjected to more than a year of siege and bombardment by Assad's forces.
Video footage showed a group of men climbing aboard a green bus, watched by around a dozen men in khaki uniform and black flak jackets marked "police". In front of the bus was a white car with the markings of the United Nations, which helped oversee the operation.
Activists said a total of 1,900 people, mainly rebel fighters, were being evacuated, starting with 600 wounded fighters and civilian relatives. But most of the people boarding the bus in central Homs appeared to be fit men of fighting age.
Later video showed them arriving in a rebel-held area north of the city. Unlike an evacuation of civilians from Homs in February, activists said they were not detained for checks by security forces and were allowed to keep their light weapons.
The evacuation comes after months of gains by the army, backed by its Lebanese militant ally Hezbollah, along a strategic corridor of territory linking the capital Damascus with Homs and Assad's Alawite heartland on the Mediterranean.
The final rebel withdrawal from the center of the city, known as the "capital of the revolution" when protests first erupted against Assad in 2011, would consolidate his military control ahead of a June 3 presidential election.
Assad is widely expected to be the runaway victor in the vote which his opponents have dismissed as a charade.
They say no credible election can be held in a country fractured by ongoing civil war, with swathes of territory outside government control, 6 million people displaced and another 2.5 million refugees abroad.

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