Cease-fire reportedly reached in Homs, Syria
BEIRUT — A cease-fire accord has reportedly been struck in Syria that would bring the war-battered Old City of Homs back under government control by allowing the evacuation of hundreds of rebels, according to various reports Friday.
The deal, if it is implemented, would represent a victory for the government of President Bashar Assad ahead of national elections scheduled for June 3.
More than three years into the punishing Syrian conflict, authorities want to convey an image of relative normalcy for balloting that is expected to give Assad another seven-year term. The government has notched significant battlefield gains in recent months, especially in central Homs province and in and around Damascus, the capital.
But each day brings new reports of attacks, many with civilian casualties. And vast swaths of Syria, especially in the north and east, remain beyond government control. Government officials have been eager to evict rebels from the city of Homs, long dubbed the “capital” of the uprising against Assad.
There was no official confirmation Friday that the government and opposition in Homs had reached an accord. But news websites on both sides of the conflict reported that an agreement had been struck allowing remnant rebel forces to leave Old Homs. Details of the accord varied.
Representatives of the two sides have been negotiating behind closed doors for weeks. The Army has laid siege to Homs’ ancient quarter for much of the last two years, cutting off supplies and food to rebel-held neighborhoods inside the once-vibrant Old City, now largely abandoned and in ruins after months of shelling and gun battles.
In recent weeks, Homs has seen a surge of violence as the Army has begun a slow advance on the Old City. Al-Qaida-linked rebels have taken credit for a series of car bombings that have killed dozens of civilians in government-controlled neighborhoods.
Recent attacks throughout Syria fit a pattern that has become familiar after more than three years of conflict. Rebels fighting to oust Assad use car bombs and mortars to target areas deemed pro-Assad. Government forces, meanwhile, pummel rebel-held zones with aerial bombardments.
On Friday, state media reported that a pair of car bombs in Syria’s central Hama province killed 18 people, including 11 children.