BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian authorities and rebel fighters agreed a 24-hour ceasefire in the Old City district of Homs on Friday to allow besieged rebels to pull out of their last stronghold in the central Syrian city, a monitoring group and television stations said.
A final rebel withdrawal from the city once dubbed the “capital of the revolution” would mark a significant and symbolic military advance by forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad, one month before his likely re-election as president.
Assad’s forces, backed by fighters from Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group and Iraqi Shi’ite gunmen, have pushed back the mainly Sunni Muslim rebels and foreign jihadis from around Damascus and central Syria over the last year.
Hundreds of civilians were evacuated from central Homs in early February during a humanitarian ceasefire overseen by the United Nations and Red Crescent. Food and medicines were also allowed into the besieged area.
Many rebel fighters stayed on. But outgunned and surrounded, they have little prospect of holding out in the long term.
Hezbollah’s Al Manar Television and regional broadcaster said fighting stopped at around noon when the ceasefire came into effect, and that rebel fighters would be allowed to head north out of the center of the city.
“The agreement stipulates a ceasefire and withdrawal of Islamist and other fighters and brigades from the besieged districts of Homs towards northern rural Homs province,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.
There was no immediate confirmation of any fighters leaving.
Reporting by Dominic Evans; Editing by Janet Lawrence