7 May 2014

Homs – ‘capital of the Syrian revolution’ falls

Rebels begin withdrawing from the city of Homs – a central battleground in the Syrian civil war, once known as the “capital of the revolution” – in a major symbolic victory for Bashar al-Assad.

Below: 2014 pictures of the devastation in Homs

Following a campaign of bombing and starvation by government troops – rebels struck a deal with the government that would see them leave the city.

Amateur footage posted on social media websites purported to show rebels boarding government buses to be driven out of the city. The buses were reported to be heading to rebel-held areas north of Homs.

Around 1,000 rebel troops remained entrenched in the Old City of Homs. Following a deal struck at the Geneva II conference, civilians were evacuated from the area in February – and a number of starved fighters left at the same time.

The Syrian government’s campaign involved destroying tunnels which had been key to getting supplies into the city.

Channel 4 News has repeatedly returned to the city of Homs since the start of the revolution. As International Editor Lindsey Hilsum found in April this year (see below), much of the historic city is now rubble.

In June 2013 the Syrian army launched a major offensive, and since then it has steadily made progress in the city.

Now the rebels are leaving the city, having struck a deal which will also see them end their siege of two northern towns – Nubl and al-Zahraa.

On Wednesday, the pro-rebel monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that two roads leading to the towns had been opened by rebels at the same time as government buses entered Homs.

See more: Channel 4 News reports from the Syrian civil war

The delivery of aid and the release of captives held by rebels near Nubl and al-Zahraa are also part of the deal.

Symbolic victory

The capitulation of Homs brings to an end years of fighting over the third largest city in Syria.

In 2012, photojournalist Mani’s award-winning film (see below) from the city revealed the horrors of this frontline battle between Assad’s soldiers and rebels.

Exclusive footage smuggled out of the country also showed evidence that civilians were being tortured at a government run hospital in the city.

The victory for Bashar al-Assad’s army comes ahead of presidential elections, on 3 June, in which President Assad is widely expected to win a landslide re-election.

Assad’s opponents, including the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition, say that no election during a time of civil war can be legitimate.

Conservative estimates put the death toll from Syria’s three-year civil war at over 100,000 – though some estimates go as high as 150,000.

Millions of people are internally displaced in the country, or are refugees across Syria’s border into countries such as Jordan and Lebanon.

On Wednesday, Syria retained its top spot as the worst country in the world for violence and conflict.