BEIRUT, Sept 19 – A planned evacuation of several hundred Syrian rebels from the last opposition foothold in Homs city was delayed until Tuesday, the Homs governor said, vowing to press ahead despite opposition warnings it will sink a truce.
The district of Al-Waer in Homs, home to 60,000 people, is besieged by the government, which has been seeking to conclude local agreements with rebels to win back full control of strategic areas in western Syria.
Homs Governor Talal Barazi said the delay in evacuating the fighters from the al-Waer district was due to “logistical obstacles”, but he was confident it would go ahead successfully.
“This is the fifth time that fighters and their families are evacuated from Homs,” Barazi told journalists in the city. “All previous evacuations were successful, and this one will be too.”
He said on Sunday that between 250 to 300 fighters were due to leave Waer on Monday. Fighters from Waer have previously been given safe passage to the insurgent-dominated province of Idlib in northwestern Syria.
Rebel groups however say the plan is part of a government strategy of forcibly displacing people from areas after years of siege and bombardment. In a statement on Sunday, they said the government would have “clearly ended its commitment to any proposed truce” if anyone was evacuated from Waer.
A truce brokered by the United States and Russia came into effect in Syria on Sept. 12, though both the combatants have accused each other of numerous violations.
Explaining the obstacles that led to the delay, Barazi said earth berms and concrete barricades need to be removed from the route to ensure the rebels reach their final destination. He said this could be Idlib province or the border with Turkey.
The Syrian army has provided all appropriate conditions for the convoy’s safe passage, he added. “I don’t think there are big obstacles,” Barazi said. “God willing, tomorrow will be a suitable day to resume this operation.”