A truce went into effect today in the strategic Syrian city of Homs, facilitating the withdrawal of thousands of rebels from the city after a two-year-long occupation.
The New York Times reports that evacuation is significant for both the government and the forces that been fighting desperately against for more than three years. President Bashar al Assad and his supporters see it as a hopeful sign that the uprising could soon end, and the rebels a discouraging one. The Times adds some detail:
Insurgents in Aleppo Province, to the north, will lift their longstanding blockade of two villages under the terms of the agreement ... About 2,000 people, mainly fighters and their families, were expected to travel to rebel-held areas in northern Homs Province in bus convoys escorted by United Nations vehicles, spokesmen for the insurgents said. The deal allowed each fighter to take one bag and their individual light weapons, and one rocket-propelled grenade launcher was permitted per bus.
The event comes ahead of new Syrian elections, slated to take place next month, though there is little hope that elections will produce a fair and open result. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has been accused of perpetrating war crimes against his people, is seeking reelection, and millions of Syria have fled the country to avoid the fighting.
Both sides agreed to the truce last week, which will allow for aid workers to enter into two northern villages held by rebels. The rebels also agreed to release dozens of pro-Assad gunmen held in Aleppo. So far, more than 150,000 people have been killed since conflict began three years ago.