Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will retake Homs, known as “the capital of the revolution,” under terms of a ceasefire agreement reached by the country’s government and rebel groups today, according to local activists.
Both sides agreed on a 48-hour break in the fighting in Syria's third largest city, allowing hundreds of rebels to flee to opposition held areas north of the city, activists told AP. Anti-government forces in Homs have been making an increasingly desperate last stand in the city's old town as Syrian army troops surrounded their positions.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which uses a network of activists to monitors the conflict, also reported news of the agreement, which it said would be implemented today.
If Assad’s forces do retake Homs, it will be a huge blow to opposition groups. The city was the scene of some of the earliest and largest anti-government protests in 2011, when the Syrian uprising began. It was the first city to fall to rebel fighters when Assad’s opponents took up arms in response to brutal repression and violence against protesters. Leaving it would likely be a last resort.
“Based on the reports that have emerged, [the deal] would amount to a face-saving compromise for rebel forces,” Noah Bonsey Senior Analyst, Syria with International Crisis Group told VICE News. “But it's a significant symbolic blow given Homs' reputation as the 'capital of the revolution,' particularly during the first year of the uprising.”
The city of Homs was hit by two large explosions on April 29, according to local activists.
It will be a propaganda coup for Assad, meanwhile, who will stand for virtually certain re-election on June 3. However, Bonsey adds that some of the president's backers would not be happy with anything but complete destruction of rebel forces in Homs.
"On the other hand, it would anger hardline regime supporters who want a complete victory over the rebels in old Homs, and would likely be upset about any compromise that allows them to escape with their lives, especially if they are given safe passage to the northern countryside and allowed to fight another day,” he said.
Activists in and around the town of Al-Ghanto in Syria’s Homs governorate reported deadly strikes on the town on April 19.
There will not be much of the city left to take back, however.
Homs has been devastated by bitter fighting since rebel fighters first took possession of parts of the city. Government troops have encircled and blockaded their opponents, and kept up a steady bombardment of artillery and air strikes. These attacks were stepped up in recent weeks, and Assad’s troops advanced into several rebel-held areas.
Hundreds of fighters have already left the city in November during a UN-brokered ceasefire.
In response, some increasingly desperate rebels have stepped up a car bombing campaign in government-held areas of the city. The casualties have mostly been civilians; on Tuesday, more than 50 died in double blasts in the city’s Zahra district.
Separately today, 18 were killed in two car bomb attacks in nearby Hama province.
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