More than three years after the start of a brutal rebellion and government crackdown, rebel fighters are evacuating Homs — one of their key strongholds in Syria.
AL JAZEERA ANCHOR: "The agreement will allow rebels to pull out of the city. In exchange, rebels will release what they say are Hezbollah fighters and Syrian army soldiers. The operation is due to be monitored by the UN."
The New York Times reposted this video Wednesday saying anti-government activists documented the evacuation. The green buses surrounded by men wearing jackets that read "POLICE" took 2,000 people out of Homs' Old City.
While not all rebel groups agreed with making a deal with President Bashar al-Assad's forces, this all but ends the siege of one of Syria's most important cities in a government wait-them-out strategy that seems to have worked.
PAUL WOOD, BBC CORRESPONDENT: "The rebels have buckled under the enormous pressure they've been under. Unofficially, the Syrian army refers to its siege tactics as 'surrender or starve,' and people have told me they've been on the point of starvation for a long time now."
Time and other outlets report the rebels, their families and others civilians trapped in the Old City section of Homs were reduced to eating insects, grass and whatever else they could grow by the end of the nearly two-year-long siege.
As noted in this BBC headline from January, Homs has long been regarded as the "capital of the revolution" in Syria.
Control of Homs is hugely significant strategically. It's Syria's third largest city, and mountain ranges along the coast make Homs the only natural gateway from the Mediterranean Sea to the country's interior.
Since the beginning of the rebellion against Assad, the United Nations believes 150,000 people have been killed in attacks that included chemical weapons. Assad insists his forces didn't fire the chemical weapons. (Via ITN / ITV)
Calculating just what portion of the dead are civilians is notoriously difficult. While some have estimated it at a third of the people killed, The Washington Post points out many of those making the estimates are at least loosely aligned with rebels.
As The New York Times noted, "The government hopes to showcase Homs as proof that it can settle the conflict through local negotiations, obviating the need for international peace talks ahead of President Bashar al-Assad’s expected re-election in June, in a vote dismissed by his opponents as a charade."
The rebels say they plan to relocate to areas still controlled by anti-government forces and have vowed to continue to fight Assad's regime.