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Rebels agree withdrawal deal for enclave near Syria's Homs

FILE PHOTO: Smoke rises from one of the buildings in the city of Homs, Syria March 11, 2013. REUTERS/Yazan Homsy/File Photo

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian rebels accepted a deal on Wednesday to quit their enclave near Homs city, a rebel official said, as the military crushes the last two besieged insurgent pockets in the country.

The agreement, which Russia brokered, would restore state rule, with fighters handing over their heavy weapons, the official in Homs province said.

Fighters and civilians who refuse to settle with the state will be taken to insurgent territory in the north near the Turkish border in an evacuation expected to start on Saturday, he added.

There was no immediate comment from Damascus or Moscow. State news agency SANA had said late on Tuesday that a preliminary deal was reached with similar terms.

The enclave, the most populous zone still under siege in Syria, 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.

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

Army offensives and such local agreements have helped Damascus regain control of swathes of the country, with support from Russia and Iran.

Last week, a Syrian government minister said the enclave north of Homs city was the army’s next target after retaking all insurgent territory around the capital.

Reporting by Ellen Francis in Beirut and Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman, Editing by William Maclean