The Sputnik correspondent witnessed a moment that will go down in history when Al Waer residents saw off bus convoys with tears of joy welling up in their eyes, as they looked forward to restored peace. On the last day at the evacuation center, the correspondent had a rare opportunity to speak with those who forbade local residents to leave the district of Al Waer over the past six years and fought against the Syrian army as recently as the day before.
An Episode of Syrian War
The completely demolished blocks of flats in Old Homs, where not a single building remains intact and where some structures have turned into rubble, shows the scale of local hostilities. Back in 2014, the first successful deal was implemented here under the state program of national reconciliation, with 1,500 militants leaving central Homs. At that time, local authorities started a countdown in the hope that the city would be completely liberated from terrorists.
The 11th stage of the militant pullout began at night, with reporters not allowed to arrive until morning.
“The situation was very tense at night when any ill-conceived movement could provoke militants and torpedo the process. We hoped that everything would proceed more quickly, but we will have to wait for a very long time, maybe even for 24 hours,” Police colonel Samir said while pointing a finger at buses with civilians and militants.
Several hours later, as evening approached, the monotonous situation started changing, with small groups of militants numbering about 15 people each walking toward the buses. They wore camouflage uniforms, their faces were covered with masks, and they were brandishing assault rifles. All these people did not want to leave Al Waer until the very last moment and were likely to change their minds at any point in time, opening fire on the crowd. Security officers feared this scenario the most.
A small boy and a hostile-looking militant stood nearby alongside two more women and an elderly man.
The boy standing near the militant gave the correspondent money, rudely and reproachfully asking for bread from a nearby bakery as the group was not allowed to leave the buses. The boy received his pack of bread loaves about ten minutes later and started acting more politely but continued to offer money to a foreign stranger out of pride. Hunger obviously proved stronger, and the Syrian took both the bread and the money. After hearing wishes of peace and tranquility for his family, the young militant became confused and said nothing.
The elderly man standing nearby replied in a trembling voice for the young man, expressing appreciation for convincing his grandson that all people are brothers and that it is possible to help each other instead of fighting and killing.
The militants could not leave peacefully. Before going, their last group set fire to cars remaining in Al Waer, with smoke billowing from various locations. This act of vandalism made everyone apprehensive but did not warrant the culprits’ arrest.
The most difficult stage was over by dusk. The military shut down the entrance to Al Waer, where combat engineers were going to have a hard time working. Experts started inspecting any cars which were still intact as well as the main road.
The Governor ordered the central square to be illuminated for the upcoming celebrations. Stadium-type floodlights shone brightly and appeared that local residents did not know how to express their happiness. Children ran around begging for money while adults both cried and smiled in one common scene of victory and new hopes.
It may be surprising, but the district of Al Waer looked remarkably well-preserved. Virtually all buildings stood intact, and lights could already be seen through some windows.
Apart from Homs, militants continue to leave communities and districts in Damascus, the capital of Syria. The Syrian Government has suggested that all militants either relocate to Idlib or surrender in exchange for an amnesty and a peaceful life. According to Syrian military sources, the talks are often delayed due to pressure from foreign mercenaries who consider peace in Syria to be absolutely out of the question.