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 Once the opposition fighters have withdrawn, the city once known as the "capital of the revolution" will fully return to government control.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.

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Syrians on a bus wave to the camera are they are evacuated from the district of al-Waer in HomsLouai Beshara/AFP
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Syrian government forces stand guard as civilians and rebels began evacuating the district of al-Waer in the city of HomsLouai Beshara/AFP
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Members of the Syrian government forces watch from a tower at a military base as civilians and rebel forces began evacuating the last opposition-held district of al-WaerLouai Beshara/AFP
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Members of the Syrian Red Crescent give aid to an injured man as civilians and Syrian rebel forces begin evacuating the last opposition-held district of HomsLouai Beshara/AFP

The deal is similar to one struck in May 2014 in Homs' Old City, where the government assumed control after about 2,000 rebels were granted safe passage to opposition areas north of Homs. The Old City was destroyed and thousands of civilians were killed or forced to flee, and rebels surrendered only after they were starved and outgunned.

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.

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Shattered buildings are pictured in front of the Khaled Ibn al-Waleed mosque in the Old City of Homs on 8 December 2015Omar Sanadiki/Reuters
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The entrance to the al-Waer district of Homs is seen on 8 December 2015Omar Sanadiki/Reuters
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The al-Waer hospital in Homs is pictured on 8 December 2015Omar Sanadiki/Reuters
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The devastated al-Qosour neighbourhood of Homs is pictured on 8 December 2015Omar Sanadiki/Reuters
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Scaffolding surrounds the Khaled Ibn al-Waleed mosque in Homs on 7 December 2015Omar Sanadiki/Reuters
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Graffiti is seen on a damaged building near Khaled Ibn al-Waleed mosque in Homs on 7 December 2015Omar Sanadiki/Reuters
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People drive past damaged buildings near the new clock square in the Old City of Homs on 7 December 2015Omar Sanadiki/Reuters
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The old clock square in Homs is pictured on 7 December 2015Omar Sanadiki/Reuters
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The new clock square in the Old City of Homs on 7 December 2015Omar Sanadiki/Reuters
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A man rides a bicycle past a poster depicting Syria's President Bashar al-Assad near the new clock square in the Old City of Homs, on 7 December 2015Omar Sanadiki/Reuters
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Shrapnel holes are seen in the old souk of the Old City of Homs on 3 June 2015Omar Sanadiki/Reuters
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Women walk past damaged buildings in the old city of Homs on 3 June 2015Omar Sanadiki/Reuters
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A damaged building is pictured in the rebel-controlled al-Waer area of Homs on 18 February 2015Reuters
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Damaged buildings are seen in the al-Waer area of Homs on 18 January 2015Reuters
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People inspect a building in al-Waer, Homs, hit by what activists said were missiles fired by Assad's forces on 1 January 2015Reuters
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Damage is seen in a house at a site hit by what activists said were missiles fired by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Waer district of Homs on 1 January 2015Reuters
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A damaged street filled with debris is pictured in Homs on 9 March 2014Thaer Al Khalidiya/Reuters

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.