The Syrian government was Saturday enjoying a symbolic victory as civilians began trickling back into the rubble of Homs' Old City after the last rebels left under an evacuation deal, AFP reported.
The pullout, completed Friday, leaves the rebels confined to a single district on the outskirts of the central city, once the capital of the armed rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad.
As troops moved in to clear out explosives, hundreds of civilians began returning to see what remained of their homes in Hamidiyeh, a Christian district in the Old Town, which has been under nearly daily bombardment during a two-year siege.
Many were shocked, with tears in their eyes, as they climbed over debris to inspect the ruins of their former neighborhoods, now rendered almost unrecognizable.
"My whole house is destroyed. I went to my in-laws' home, and that's destroyed too. Nothing, except a few objects, remains," said Wafa.
Residents walked, rode bicycles and motorbikes, and pushed strollers down streets strewn with rubble.
Every building bore signs of the conflict, from bullet holes to enormous craters created by the shells that struck almost daily during a nearly two-year siege.
"The destruction is just horrible," said Rima Battah, 37, in the Hamidiyeh district of the Old City.
"My husband went to our house yesterday and found it destroyed. We came back together today to get our things," she added, gesturing to the five large bags of possessions surrounding her.
Dozens of families were doing the same, gathering the clothes and keepsakes that could be salvaged from homes destroyed in the conflict.
"We had a new apartment, and it was in a new building, and now everything is destroyed," said one woman, refusing to give her name, flanked by her husband and three children.
A 45-year-old who returned with her husband and did not identify herself said, "I came to check on my house, but I couldn't find it. I didn't find a roof, I didn't find walls. I only found this coffee cup, which I will take with me as a souvenir."
The final convoy of rebels withdrew after a day-long delay blamed on fighters in northern Syria blocking an aid convoy destined for two pro-government towns besieged by opposition fighters in Aleppo province.
The delivery had been pledged as part of an exchange that eventually saw some 2,000 people, mainly rebels, leave the Old City with a guarantee of safe passage.
Homs Governor Talal al-Barazi said "we have completed the evacuation of armed men from the Old City of Homs."
Most left Wednesday and Thursday, but buses carrying the last 250 rebels were delayed till Friday because fighters not involved in the deal blocked the pledged flow of food supplies into the towns of Nubol and Zahraa.
Barazi said negotiations were also well advanced for rebels to leave the Wael neighborhood, their only remaining holdout in Homs, in the coming weeks.
State news agency SANA quoted Barazi as saying government troops had entered the Old City on Friday and began clearing it of explosives planted by the rebels.
100,000 civilians flee jihadist clashes in Syria
Meanwhile, more than 100,000 civilians escaped the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor because of fierce clashes between rival jihadist groups, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Saturday.
The British-based monitoring group also said the clashes between al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front and the rival Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) had killed 230 militants in the last 10 days.
Of those, 146 were members of Al-Nusra and other Islamist brigades, including some who were executed by ISIL.
The clashes between the two groups in the oil-rich province began at the end of April and come after a wider backlash against ISIL that started in January.
ISIL, which grew from al-Qaeda's Iraq branch, has been the target of a joint campaign by moderate and Islamist rebels as well as Al-Nusra since early January.
ISIL was initially welcomed by some of the Syrian opposition, but its abuses of civilians and rebel forces sparked the backlash that begin this year.
In February, ISIL withdrew from most of Deir Ezzor under pressure, but in recent weeks it has advanced once again, the Observatory said, regaining territory in the west of the province.
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