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Syria forces get province as rebels flee last enclave

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Photographs by AP/SANA

Syrian police officers join villagers in waving national flags Tuesday ahead of a convoy entering a village in northern Homs, which is now under government control.

BEIRUT -- Syrian government forces are in full control of the last rebel enclave in the country's largest province, an officer told state-run television Tuesday, as thousands of armed men and civilians left the region.

The rebels have agreed to surrender the northern countryside of Homs province to the government under a deal reached in early May. According to the deal, thousands of rebels and civilians who refuse to live under government control were to be evacuated to other rebel-held areas in the country's north.

State media and activists say more than 27,000 civilians and gunmen have left the northern countryside of Homs in the recent days, the latest in a string of capitulation deals by rebels across the country. In a victory for the Syrian government, the rebels agreed after Russian-sponsored mediation to evacuate their areas.

The deal in northern rural Homs came days after rebels cleared their last remaining strongholds around the capital, Damascus. Government troops and allied fighters continue to battle the remaining Islamic State fighters in a pocket south of Damascus.

A Syrian security officer told state-run Al-Ikhbariya TV on Tuesday that police had begun deploying in northern rural Homs, restoring government control.

"We declare from the area that we have triumphed over terrorism and we declare that we have overpowered terrorism from Homs province," the unnamed officer told Al-Ikhbariya. "Starting today, northern rural Homs will begin to return to normal life."

Al-Ikhbariya showed Syrian government forces raising the country's flag over a building in a village in northern Homs.

Videos shared on social media showed vehicles carrying the Russian flag accompanying the deployment. According to the agreement, Russian military police were to deploy in the evacuated areas.

Activists said the deployment began in smaller villages in northern Homs, but it was not clear when it would begin in larger towns such as Houla, in northern Homs province.

Rebels were in control of the province's northern rural area for years.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said more evacuations were expected later Tuesday.

A group of U.S.-backed rebels has a base in southern Homs near the border with Iraq.

A Section on 05/16/2018

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