The first groups of civilians and fighters – some of them linked to Islamic State (Isis) and al-Qaeda – have begun evacuating the rebel-held al-Waer district in Homs. This is the last enclave of the city still in the hands of the Syrian opposition, following a truce with the Bashar al-Assad government.
800 people are expected to leave the beleaguered city throughout the day under the auspices of a UN peace deal two years in the making. Priority has been given to women, children and the severely wounded as the first busses leave Homs. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported that despite the city-wide truce, clashes have continued between IS and the regime in the surrounding region, with heavy fighting to the north in Tasnin.
Under the agreement, the radical Syrian opposition Jabhat al-Nursa (an al-Qaeda affiliate) and IS-linked brigades will leave Homs first. The moderate opposition is allowed to remain longer, until al-Waer is handed over to the Syrian Army.
As a show of faith ahead of the deal the Syrian authorities released 35 opposition fighters who had been detained in Homs, the BBC reported. Under the ceasefire, UN aid has reached al-Waer for the first time in 12 months.
One resident was quoted as saying: "We wish for the best. What do we want but safety?" In 2011 Homs was one of the centres of the Syrian revolution. The majority Sunni city had a long tradition of defiance against the Assad regime.
The UN and the international community are hopeful that local ceasefires like the one in Homs will lead the way to peace between the opposing factions in Syria's fractious civil war. In September Iran and Turkey were able to broker deals in Idlib province and in the town of Zabadani near the Lebanese border. However, Reuters reported that a similar agreement, negotiated directly with the Syrian government and its opposition have stalled in Damascus.