Homs: Syria rebels in final retreat from heart of Homs

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The last freedom fighters were going away the essence of the battleground city of Homs, handing a symbolic victory to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ahead of a controversial election.

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Rebels strike back in the historic heart of Aleppo, blowing up a luxury hotel-turned-army position after tunnelling under the front line which separates the primary urban center of northern Syria.

At least 14 soldiers and pro-government militiamen were killed in the detonation and its aftermath yesterday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Just about 1,000 rebel fighters have left the Old City of Homs under the unprecedented negotiated evacuation that began Wednesday, according to figures given to AFP by provincial governor Talal Barazi.

But seven buses carrying the last 300 fighters were stopped because Islamist fighters were refusing to appropriate food supplies into two rebels-besieged Shiite towns in Aleppo province, the Observatory said.

Said they were blocked at the northern exit from the Old City, without giving a reason.

Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Syrian Observatory, said Islamists were limiting entry of supplies to Zahraa and Nabol to two trucks, instead of 12 as agreed by the regime and rebels in negotiations to which they were not a party.

Earlier said more than 200 combatants had been evacuated yesterday, in addition to 980 people, mostly insurgents, but including some women and children, bussed out of the Old City on Wednesday.

The pullout, following an army siege of almost two years, leaves the rebels confined to a single district on the outskirts of a city that what was formerly a bastion of the rebellion.

Said negotiations were well got along for the insurgents to leave that neighborhood too in the coming weeks.

He sounded out the attack aircraft and some civilians evacuated with them were bussed away to the opposition- controlled town of Dar al-Kabira, 20 kms north of Homs.

Government troops took on football on the square housing Homs’s landmark clock tower, once the scene of the city’s massive anti- regime protests.

A soldier went up onto the rooftop of a household and told AFP: “This is the first time I climb up here without fearing snipers.”

“Get on, hit me!” he screamed out to another soldier, who got a picture of him.

It is not the first deal between the regime and the rebels – a number of cease-fires have been tallied on the outskirts of Damascus.

But it is the first time that rebel fighters have taken out from an area they held under an agreement with the regime.

The Syrian government took into account the remaining rebels in Homs to pull out with their personal weapons in return for the release of 40 Alawite women and children, an Iranian woman and 30 soldiers held hostage by rebels elsewhere in Syria, a rebel spokesman said.

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