Syrian Rebels Agree to Surrender Northern Enclave Near Homs

Syrian state media say rebels have agreed to surrender an enclave near Syria’s third largest city to the government, The Washington Post reports. Al-Ikhbariya TV says rebels have agreed to allow government forces into the countryside north of Homs and re-establish state institutions. Rebels will have the option of pledging their allegiance to the government or relocating to rebel-held territory in northern Syria.

Militants shall have their status legally settled. However, those unwilling to reconcile will be evacuated – along with their families – to the jihadi-controlled areas in the country’s north within three days.As per the agreement, the Syrian Army will be responsible for re-opening the Homs-Hama highway within three days.

The agreement is the latest in a string of capitulations by rebels worn down after seven years of war. Earlier this year, the government took back control of suburbs around Damascus and two neighborhoods held by the Islamic State group inside the capital. Tens of thousands of people have departed to northern Syria instead of living again under President Bashar Assad’s rule.

A reporter from SANA, Syria’s state-run news organization, says the “terrorists” from the northern countryside of Homs and the southern countryside of Hama must leave with their families, CNN adds. SANA said the agreement provides for settling the status of militants who are willing to do so, the entry of the Syrian Arab army into the region, the return of all state institutions and departments, and the opening of the international highway that connects Homs and Hama. Hama is about 45 kilometers  from Homs.

The agreement says the rebels will hand over maps of tunnels, landmines and ammunition dumps, SANA said. Last week dozens of buses carrying Syrian rebel fighters and their families left East Qalamoun, north of Damascus, under a similar agreement with the Syrian and Russian forces. The regime says it regained control earlier this month of Eastern Ghouta in the suburbs of Damascus, where the UN reports about 160,000 people were evacuated between March 9 and April 15.

According to Sputnik, earlier, the media network reported that the Syrian military command had decided to move an elite army formation from Damascus to Homs province before the start of a major offensive against militants. A month before, a Syrian government minister had told Reuters that the Syrian Army and allied forces would seek to liberate militant-held areas in the province of Homs, north of the provincial capital.

Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry’s Center for Syrian reconciliation said on Tuesday that over 450 civilians have returned home in the Syrian provinces over the past 24 hours, noting that despite a ceasefire regime throughout Syria, the Russian-Turkish-Iranian coordination center had registered several cases of truce violations in Idlib, Latakia, and Daraa provinces within the last 24 hours.

Homs is Syria’s third-largest city and was known as the “capital of the revolution” after mass demonstrations against the government in 2011. The U.S. State Department announced Tuesday that it’s working with the Global Coalition and local partners, including Syrian Democratic Forces, to launch operations to liberate the final ISIS strongholds in Syria. Most of Syria’s rebels have been taken to Northern Syria as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad tightens his grip on them after seven years of civil war.

At the same time, for the third time this week, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and their Palestinian allies have stormed the strategic town of Hajar Al-Aswad from several axes, Al Masdar News reports. Led by their 105th Brigade (Republican Guard) and 9th Division shock troops (Fandi Group), the Syrian Army attempted to advance at the western and southeastern axes of Hajar Al-Aswad.

Despite facing heavy resistance from the Islamic State (ISIS) forces at these axes, the Syrian Army and their Palestinian allies were able to score a small advance today. According to a military source in Damascus, the Syrian Army and their Palestinian allies reportedly liberated a number of building blocks in the western part of Hajar Al-Aswad. This small advance was secured by the Russian Aerospace Forces, who repeatedly bombarded the Islamic State’s positions inside both the Yarmouk Camp and Hajar Al-Aswad.