The Syrian government was enjoying a symbolic victory as civilians began trickling back into the rubble of Homs’ Old City on Saturday after the last rebels left under an evacuation deal.
The pullout, completed on Friday, leaves the rebels confined to a single district on the outskirts of the central city, once “the capital of the revolution” against President Bashar al-Assad.
As troops moved in to clear out explosives, hundreds of civilians began returning to see what remained of their homes in Hamidiyeh, a Christian district in the Old Town, which has been under nearly daily bombardment during a two-year siege.
The final convoy of rebels withdrew after a day-long delay blamed on fighters in northern Syria blocking an aid convoy destined for two pro-regime towns besieged by opposition fighters in Aleppo province.
The delivery had been pledged as part of an exchange that eventually saw some 2,000 people, mainly rebels, leave the Old City with a guarantee of safe passage.
“We have completed the evacuation of armed men from the Old City of Homs,” said Homs Governor Talal al-Barazi.
Most left on Wednesday and Thursday, but buses carrying the last 250 rebels were delayed till Friday because fighters not involved in the deal blocked the pledged flow of food supplies into the Shiite towns of Nubol and Zahraa, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
This is not the first deal between the government and the rebels, but is the first time rebel fighters have withdrawn from an area they controlled after an accord.
It is also the first time Syria’s rebels and security agencies have signed a deal after negotiations, supervised by the ambassador of key Damascus ally Iran.