Wed 14 Nov 2018

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An Evacuation Agreement Ends Northern Rural Homs’ Siege

Tow opposition fighters at the Rasatan fronts in northern Homs – March 2018 (Enab Baladi)

Tow opposition fighters at the Rasatan fronts in northern Homs – March 2018 (Enab Baladi)

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The years of besiegement in the northern countryside of Homs have came into a halt, with an evacuation, “displacement,” agreement that finalized the file of this little geographical area, which is the Syrian opposition’s only remaining part in central Syria, following Russian pressure and hegemony over the negotiations in the area, which, early in May, have led to its evacuation and allowed for the stay of those who do not want to leave, to complete thus the series of the Homs-based evacuations.

The registration of the names of the people who would want to leave will continue till Saturday May 5; the lists have been prepared in the shadow of a calmness that the northern countryside of Homs and the southern countryside of Hama have witnessed after the agreement. In other parts of the area, however, demonstrations against displacement erupted, calling out for a stay.

According to Enab Baladi’s reporter in rural Homs, only a small portion of the people, about 350 thousand, would leave to northern Syria, pointing out “that many of them insist on staying, especially in al-Rastan and Talbiseh, while 60% of al-Houla area’s people are expected to exit.”

With the completion of the evacuation procedures,  the Official News Agency “SANA” reported that the members of the “Engineering Unit” under Assad’s forces have started working as to open the international highway between the two governorates of Homs and Hama, in sync with the continuation of surrendering medium and heavy weaponry by the opposition factions, according to which the first portion of the evacuees will exit the area, if something urgent had not comp up, next Monday, as Enab Baladi sources have informed.

“Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham,” which fighters do not exceed 250 members, was decided to exit the area, but it refused to leave with the first portion, according to the sources.

The Content of the Agreement

The agreement provided for an ultimate cease fire in the area, which followed repetitive negotiations with the Russian side at the Dar al-Kabirah crossing.

Abdul Salam al-Najib, a member of “Syria’s Tomorrow Movement,” who was a mediator in the negotiations with the Russians concerning the area since August 2017, said that the factions have started giving up their heavy weaponry as “a gesture of good will,” while refusal was echoed by the leader of the  “al-Tawhid Brigade” Manhal al-Salouh (al-Daheek), who in a video posted on “Facebook” stressed that “he is staying in the area without anybody’s guarantee, for the sake of God alone and the weapons they own.”

According to Enab Baladi’s sources, the people who refuse the legalization of their status must exit the area, and the agreement’s duration might be extended in correspondence to the number of the departing people, on the condition that the road from the northern countryside of Homs, which reaches the al-Rastan bridge and then the city of Hama, arriving at the “liberated” areas in northern Syria is to be open for all the evacuees’ convoys.

The Russian military police and the civil police shall enter the city after the departure of the last convoy from the northern countryside; each fighter is allowed to take a rifle and three boots, in addition to personal luggage. Those who accept the settlement, the “legalization” process, are supposed to surrender their individual weapons at the beginning of the procedures.

The “legalization process” includes both civilians and dissidents for a six months duration, after which the people who are at the age of the mandatory or the reserve services shall join the army; the status of students and employees will also be legalized, as to return to work or studying, considering the interruption duration.

According to the “negotiating” committee, the departure will be either to Idlib or to Jarabulus; “we have the liberty to decide the track and the destination accompanied by the Russian military police,” on the condition that the departing buses should be inspected and examined by Russian, the regime and opposition representatives. Money and personal belongings can also be taken.

Thee agreement guarantees to prevent Assad’s forces from entering the area as long as the Russian military police stays in the area, which the “negotiating committee” has specified as no less than six months.

Al-Najib totld Enab Baladi that the negotiations started since Cairo meetings, August 2018, seeking to “prevent the current state,” pointing out that “many countries and politicians have advised us to conduct an agreement with the Russians, and this is what we have started.”

The factions were compelled to conduct the agreement after the “fierce” attack by Assad’s forces, according to al-Najib, who confirmed that “the regime did not interfere in the agreement and that it was directly conducted with the Russians […] for the countries have an agreement concerning the control areas.”

“A number of factions including Ahrar al-sham have demanded a Turkish intervention,” according to the former mediator, who pointed out that the movement to which he belongs “is seeking to protect the area from future violations, especially those by the pro-regime towns that surround them; we are doing this through our relationship with Russia.”

He stressed that “Ahrar al-Sham, al-Sham Legion and Harakat Tahrir al-Watan (National Liberation Movement)” will exit the area, while a separate agreement is being sought as “to guarantee a certain form of a stay of Al-Tawhid Brigade and the rest of the factions in al-Rastan, al-Dar al-Kabirah and Teir Maalah as to participate in running the area.”

The official announcement of the agreement was followed by the blessings of Nahed Tlass, the daughter of the Syrian regime’s former Minister of Defense Mustafa Tlass. In a voice note, posted by activists on “Facebook”, she said that she played a role in reaching the agreement’s final formula.

Nahed, from the city of al-Rastan is now based in France, added that “she guarantees that Assad’s forces would not enter the area entirely, and that the military presence would be limited to the Russian forces alone, for six months, as the agreement has provided.”

Despite the fact that the agreement has been adopted in its general form, its minute details and dimensions are yet ambiguous. In addition to this, there are not any statistics about the numbers of the people who want to exit the area, amidst expectations of the stay of the majority of the area’s population after the “legalization” of their status.

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