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Rebels lose Homs in Syria, to fight elsewhere

Rebels lose Homs in Syria, to fight elsewhere
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The last few hundred rebels have been permitted to leave Syria’s central city of Homs as part of a deal with the government.

The army is back in control of the symbol of the resistance against President Bashar al-Assad.

Under United Nations protection, around 1,200 rebels and residents in the Old City left on buses this week.

This was in exchange for the release of dozens of captives held by rebels in the north.

The last rebels were let out, human rights monitors confirmed, when the humanitarian aid that was part of the deal arrived elsewhere.

Some rebels remain in Waer, northwest of Homs.

The complex arrangements were brokered by the Iranian and Russian ambassadors to Syria, according to the UN Humanitarian Affairs Coordination Office.

Homs saw giant protests when the conflict was just beginning three years ago.

This is the rebels’ first retreat from a major city — Syria’s third-largest. It is a major blow to the opposition and a boost for Assad, weeks before his expected re-election.

Homs became the capital of a revolution. It was besieged the longest — for two years. It was the regime’s way, with heavy bombardments, of battering the rebels. Civilians caught there with them also suffered, close to starvation. The death toll was more than 2,000. Many of those who held out for so long hated to give it up.

The deal came at a summit in Geneva, where previous efforts, in February, had failed.

For Assad’s side it’s a strong symbolic and media victory.

The rebels knew they wouldn’t get out alive if they didn’t compromise, and count on fighting on other fronts now.

In Aleppo, as Homs was being evacuated, other rebels blew up the Carlton Hotel, that had been dear to pro-government soldiers and militias, killing 14 people.

The total death toll in the Syria conflict has been more than 150,000. It has become increasingly sectarian.

Rival regional powers have backed either the Alawite Shi’ite Assad or the overwhelmingly Sunni rebels.

The elections approach with the opposition divided and yet denouncing the polls as a farce, with Assad enjoying all the attention of state media.

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