Activists say Homs evacuation delayed, cease-fire holds

Syrian forces delayed the planned evacuation of rebel fighters from parts of Homs Saturday, the reason was unclear. The rebels were granted safe passage to other opposition-held areas after a blockade and hunger forced them to give up territory.

Rebels Battalion of Baba Amro/AP/File
Syrian rebels hold their weapons as they prepare to fight against Syrian troops, in Homs province, Syria, in June 2012. Syria's government and rebels agreed to a cease-fire on Friday, in the battleground city of Homs to allow hundreds of fighters holed up in its old quarters to evacuate, a deal that will bring the country's third–largest city under control of forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.

The planned evacuation of fighters from rebel-held parts of the Syrian city of Homs was delayed Saturday, activists said, though a cease-fire still was holding in the country's third-largest city.

Rebels in the city agreed Friday surrender territory in exchange for safe passage to other opposition-held areas. The agreement came after a blockade by Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces caused widespread hunger in rebel-held parts of the city, which have been hit relentlessly by government artillery and airstrikes.

Local activist Samer al-Homsi and other three activists said it wasn't clear why Syrian forces weren't allowing the first phase of several hundred rebel fighters to leave.

One Homs-based activist said rebels were gathering wounded fighters, so they could be taken out as a first priority, beginning Sunday. Other Homs-based activists said they believed the delays were over a plan to allow food and aid into two blockaded areas — one blockaded by rebels in the northern province of Aleppo, and another blockaded by pro-government forces near Homs.

Activists also said a prisoner exchange deal between rebels and Assad's forces in central and northern Syria also could be delaying the move.

Homs was once known as the capital of the Syrian revolution for its fierce opposition to Assad's rule.

Meanwhile, activists said that the death toll from two car bombs that struck two small villages in the central Syrian province of Hama has risen to 23 people, including 14 children.

Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Saturday that the figure was likely to rise further. The bombs exploded Friday in the villages of Jadreen and Humayri, some 19 kilometers (11 miles) apart. It wasn't clear if the two attacks were coordinated.

State-run Syrian television also reported the bombings Friday.

Car bombs have been increasingly used by rebels, adding another grim dimension to a war that has already killed over 150,000 people.

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