AMMAN: Rebels in the last opposition-controlled district of Homs city are engaged in talks with Russia to broker a deal that could see local fighters and their families evacuated to northern Syria.
The northwestern neighborhood of al-Waer is home to some 40,000 people, including several thousand rebel fighters. Government forces and allied militias have surrounded the district since the regime re-captured the rest of central Homs city, Syria’s third-largest urban center, in 2014.
The current set of negotiations come after more than a month of intense government bombardment that began on February 7. Syrian and Russian warplanes continue to bomb al-Waer, in a campaign that has killed 55 people and injured more than 200, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
Though the full terms of the agreement under negotiation have yet to be released, locals tell the Syrian Voice that residents will likely be given the option to either stay in the neighborhood under regime control, or to evacuate to rebel-held Idlib province in Syria’s north. Other evacuation deals in Outer Damascus and Aleppo contained similar terms.
Left with no good options after more than two years of siege and bombardment, locals tell the Syrian Voice that the time has come to leave their homes.
Staying behind, although the fighting will cease, would put locals at the mercy of the regime, locals say. Despite offers of amnesty for rebels, many residents fear reprisals or detainment if the government took control of the area.
“Right now, it’s better to leave,” says Amru Halmoush, a resident of al-Waer. “Here, I’m watching my children starve as the bombs fall around us.”
“Leaving one’s home is painful, but seeing my family and children suffering is even more painful,” Halmoush tells the Syrian Voice.
A long time coming
Al-Waer has not received an aid shipment since last October, and its 40,000 residents are left with little food and medicine to go around. During the recent military escalation, neighborhood clinics totally ran out of medical supplies, says local doctor Abu Khaled.
“We’re reusing needles and tearing up old clothes to use as bandages,” he tells the Syrian Voice.
Khaled Abu Oteiba, a local rebel commander, believes that an evacuation deal has been necessary for “a long time,” and that deciding whether to remain under the rule of the regime or flee to Idlib is a decision that each resident must make alone.
“Leaving has been necessary for some time now. Al-Waer is overcrowded and cut off from the rest of Syria,” Abu Oteiba tells the Syrian Voice.
After years of bombardment by the regime and Russia, many residents of al-Waer are unoptimistic about remaining in al-Waer and reconciling with the Syrian government.
“We don’t trust the regime or the Russians,” local resident Abu Mazen tells the Syrian Voice.
“Nobody wants to leave his home, but leaving is better than staying here.”
“Sticking around might get you locked up in prison or kidnapped.”
Translated by Justin Clark