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Syrian Rebels Accept Russian-Brokered Surrender Deal In Homs Enclave

A damaged car lies among rubble after an explosion in the Al-Zahraa neighborhood of Homs in May 2017.

Syrian rebels said they have accepted a deal brokered by Russia to leave territory they hold near Homs, the country's third-largest city and one of the last rebel enclaves left in the war-torn country.

The agreement announced on May 2 a day after rebels surrendered in the area would restore state rule and require rebel fighters to hand over their heavy weapons, Syrian officials and allied Hizballah militia said.

The agreement is the latest in a string of capitulations by rebels worn down after seven years of civil war. Earlier this year, the government took back control of suburbs around Damascus and two neighborhoods held by the Islamic State extremist group inside the capital.

As with previous Russia-brokered agreements, the latest deal offered rebels and civilians in the Homs area the option of pledging their allegiance to the Syrian government or relocating to the last large pocket of rebel-held territory in Idlib Province, located in northern Syria near the Turkish border.

An evacuation of rebels who refuse to settle with the government is expected to start on May 5, officials and Syrian state news agencies said. Tens of thousands of people have departed to northern Syria instead of living again under the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

The Homs enclave was the most populous zone still under siege in Syria and had seen heavy fighting and bombing in recent days. It includes the towns of Houla, Rastan, and Talbiseh and villages around them, on a main highway between the cities of Homs and Hama.

The international highway will reopen in three days under the deal, officials said.

Officials said rebels in a second pocket, south of the capital, have also effectively agreed to a surrender deal, though they have yet to evacuate.

The Syrian Army, backed by allied Russian and Iranian forces, targeted the enclave north of Homs city last week after retaking most insurgent territory around the capital last month.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and TASS
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