A temporary cease-fire between Syrian rebel fighters and government forces has been declared in an opposition-held suburb of Homs, according to pro-government and opposition sources.
The truce in Waer, which had been under government siege for six months, is viewed as a possible prelude to rebels abandoning the densely populated area in an arrangement similar to one reached in the old city of Homs early this month.
The truce began Friday afternoon in the suburb of about 350,000 civilians two miles from the center of Homs and was brokered by a neighborhood committee that included civilians and members of anti-government rebel factions. It is expected to last through Sunday but could be renewed.
In the landmark Old Homs deal, bedraggled rebel fighters, worn down by a punishing two-year government siege, were provided safe passage out of the historic Old City with their weapons, while their adversaries in the army and pro-government militias looked on.
“Negotiations began a few days after the fighters departed from Old Homs,” said Hassan Abu al Zein head of the Waer Operations Room, a coordinating center for the various rebel factions in the suburb.
Although Al Waer is less densely populated than Old Homs, a government attempt to retake the area would require punishing urban warfare likely to inflict heavy casualties on civilians.
Rebel leaders insist that they will not leave unarmed.
“The regime offered us reconciliation deals in exchange for handing over our weapons, but we absolutely refused,” said Abual Zein. “We also refuse to leave the city in the hands of the regime, especially since the neighborhood is the largest population center under” control of the Free Syrian Army.
Pro-government media quoted a Syrian army source as saying “the battle in the neighborhood is much easier than the battle in Old Homs, but it’s obvious that the gunmen do not wish to fight.”
“But if negotiations fail, a military plan is in place.”
Any long-term agreement could also include a prisoner exchange for pro-government Alawites taken hostage by rebel groups near the Alawite-dominated towns of Nubul and Zahra in the Aleppo countryside.
Bulos is a special correspondent.