Syrian rebels agree to leave Homs' al-Waer district

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian rebels have agreed to leave the Homs district of al-Waer with their families over the next few weeks, opposition media said on Monday, with state media quoting the governor of Homs province as saying the same.

Opposition-affiliated Orient News reported that negotiators from al-Waer had signed an agreement for rebel factions and their families to go to the area around Jarablus in northern Syria, held by Turkey-backed insurgent groups.

The Homs Media Centre, run by opposition activists in Homs, also told Reuters that an agreement had been reached, but said the ultimate destination of the fighters had not been decided.

The deal follows other agreements that were never fully implemented between the government and rebel groups in al-Waer, their last bastion in Homs, which has been pounded by air strikes in recent weeks.

Fighters and their families would leave in batches for northern Syria, Homs governor Talal Barazi was quoted as saying on state television and by news agencies, with the first group going on Friday.

The Homs Media Centre said between 10,000-15,000 people would leave in groups over the coming weeks, with an initial batch including about 1,500 people.

In September, Barazi said al-Waer was home to about 40,000 civilians and 800 fighters. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group monitoring the war, said there were more than 2,500 fighters there.

Syria’s civil war pits President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia, Iran and Shi’ite militias against rebels that include some jihadists as well as groups supported by the United States, Turkey and Gulf Arab kingdoms.

Assad’s government has increasingly tried to press besieged rebel areas to surrender and accept what it calls reconciliation agreements that involve insurgent fighters departing for northern Syria with small arms.

It says reconciliation deals are a good way of bringing the country closer to peace but the opposition says they are used to forcibly displace people who oppose the government.

Reporting by Angus McDowall and Ellen Francis in Beirut and Kinda Makieh in Damascus; Editing by Louise Ireland