Civilians and Syrian rebels have begun leaving the last area held by insurgents in Homs. Once the opposition fighters have withdrawn, the city once known as the "capital of the revolution" will fully return to government control.
About 750 people are expected to leave for rebel-held areas in the Hama and Idlib provinces. Priority will be given to women, children and the severely wounded, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The evacuation will also include scores of fighters and their weapons, among them a small group from al-Qaeda's Syria wing Nusra Front.
Photographs taken on a government-sanctioned trip to the Old City found that little has changed from when the rebels first left 18 months ago. The streets have been cleared of rubble, but few people have returned. Of the 2,500 shops in the ancient covered souk or marketplace, only five have reopened.
Most businesses in the city are still closed, their metal shutters marked with shrapnel and bullet holes. Rows of buildings have collapsed top floors, burned facades or crumbling walls, with no apparent attempt at repair. Electricity is erratic, so residents rely on generators.
The final rebel withdrawal from Homs will be touted as a major victory for the government in a conflict that has killed more than 250,000 people since March 2011. Homs was one of the first cities to rise up against Assad, with massive protests turning it into a battleground as government forces cracked down and opponents took up arms. Government forces clamped down on opposition-held districts in early 2012. Most of the tens of thousands of residents had already fled. As the siege dragged on into late 2013, hunger spread and morale collapsed, and the rebels began deserting the city.