Beirut, Lebanon | May 8
The first convoy of buses carrying opposition fighters and civilians from a rebel enclave in central Syria reached a region controlled by Turkish troops on Monday and were awaiting permission to enter, a Syrian war monitoring group said.
The evacuations from besieged, northern areas of Homs province and small parts of Hama province are part of an agreement reached last week between insurgents and Russia for the fighters to leave the area or surrender. Russia is a close ally of the Syrian government.
The Syrian government will take control of the area after rebels leave. Fighters who elect to stay can benefit from an amnesty, but most are expected to be drafted into the army months later.
The area includes the towns of Rastan and Talbiseh, which were among the first regions to see protests against President Bashar Assad’s government after the uprising began in March 2011. It is the last and largest region besieged by government forces.
Government forces have been making steady gains since Russia joined the war in 2015 on their side.
Last month, government forces captured eastern suburbs of the capital, Damascus, forcing tens of thousands of people to relocate to the country’s north.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said tens of thousands of fighters and civilians will leave the central region, bound for northern parts of Syria controlled by opposition fighters and Turkish troops.
The Observatory said the convoy that left central Syria late Monday is now waiting for permission to enter the region of alBab, which is controlled by Turkish troops and Turkey-backed opposition fighters.