Rebel fighters and their families began leaving their last bastion in the Syrian city of Homs on Saturday, state media and a Reuters witness said, under an evacuation deal with the government expected to be among the largest of its kind.
The first few buses carrying rebels and their families drove out of al-Waer district in the morning, heading for rebel-held areas northeast of Aleppo city. Homs governor Talal Barazi told Reuters around 1,500 people would depart for the Aleppo countryside on Saturday, including at least 400 fighters.
Russian and Syrian forces were overseeing the evacuation, and the full departure of rebels from al-Waer would take about six weeks, he said. "The preparations and the reality on the ground indicate that things will go well," Barazi said.
President Bashar al-Assad's government has increasingly tried to press besieged rebel areas to surrender and accept what it calls reconciliation agreements that involve fighters departing for northern Syria.
The Syrian government describes such deals as a good way of bringing the country closer to peace after six years of conflict. But the opposition decries them as a tactic of forcibly displacing people who oppose Assad after years of bombardment and siege.
Under the al-Waer deal, between 10,000 and 15,000 people would evacuate in batches over the coming weeks, according to a war monitor and the opposition Homs Media Center.