Syria rebels lay down arms under Homs withdrawal deal

Opposition fighters have surrendered government institutions and a strategic highway. The Syrian regime's latest offensives in Homs and Eastern Ghouta have dealt a fatal blow to the country's rebel movement.

Rebels in three Syrians towns in the central province of Homs on Friday surrendered arms to regime forces as part of a withdrawal deal with Damascus.

Conflicts | 19.03.2018

The rebel-held towns of Talbiseh, Rastan and al-Houla have been evacuated under the agreement. Opposition fighters who wish to leave will be able to join civilians being transported to Jarablus, an opposition enclave in the Aleppo province, according to the Syrian government.

Read more: Syria: Expropriation is 'punishment for those who protested'

However, some rebels have refused to be party to the withdrawal deal. Instead, they shelled government positions on Thursday.

Under the deal, government institutions will be returned to Syrian authorities along with a strategic highway that connects the cities of Homs and Hama.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

War with no end

Syria has been engulfed in a devastating civil war since 2011 after Syrian President Bashar Assad lost control over large parts of the country to multiple revolutionary groups. The conflict has since drawn in foreign powers and brought misery and death to Syrians.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The dictator

Syria's army, officially known as the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), is loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and is fighting to restore the president's rule over the entire country. The SAA has been fighting alongside a number of pro-Assad militias such as the National Defense Force and has cooperated with military advisors from Russia and Iran, which back Assad.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The northern watchman

Turkey, which is also part of the US-led coalition against IS, has actively supported rebels opposed to Assad. It has a tense relationship with its American allies over US cooperation with Kurdish fighters, who Ankara says are linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) fighting in Turkey. The Turkish military has intervened alongside rebels in northern Aleppo, Afrin and Idlib province.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The eastern guardian

The Kremlin has proven to be a powerful friend to Assad. Russian air power and ground troops officially joined the fight in September 2015 after years of supplying the Syrian army. Moscow has come under fire from the international community for the high number of civilian casualties during its airstrikes. However, Russia's intervention turned the tide in war in favor of Assad.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The western allies

A US-led coalition of more than 50 countries, including Germany, began targeting IS and other terrorist targets with airstrikes in late 2014. The anti-IS coalition has dealt major setbacks to the militant group. The US has more than a thousand special forces in the country backing the Syrian Democratic Forces.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The rebels

The Free Syrian Army grew out of protests against the Assad regime that eventually turned violent. Along with other non-jihadist rebel groups, it seeks the ouster of President Assad and democratic elections. After suffering a number of defeats, many of its members defected to hardline militant groups. It garnered some support from the US and Turkey, but its strength has been greatly diminished.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The resistance

Fighting between Syrian Kurds and Islamists has become its own conflict. The US-led coalition against the "Islamic State" has backed the Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias. The Kurdish YPG militia is the main component of the SDF. The Kurds have had a tacit understanding with Assad.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The new jihadists

"Islamic State" (IS) took advantage of regional chaos to capture vast swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria in 2014. Seeking to establish its own "caliphate," IS has become infamous for its fundamentalist brand of Islam and its mass atrocities. IS is on the brink of defeat after the US and Russia led separate military campaigns against the militant group.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The old jihadists

IS is not the only terrorist group that has ravaged Syria. A number of jihadist militant groups are fighting in the conflict, warring against various rebel factions and the Assad regime. One of the main jihadist factions is Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, which controls most of Idlib province and has ties with al-Qaeda.

Who's fighting in the Syria conflict?

The Persian shadow

Iran has supported Syria, its only Arab ally, for decades. Eager to maintain its ally, Tehran has provided Damascus with strategic assistance, military training and ground troops when the conflict emerged in 2011. The Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah also supports the Assad regime, fighting alongside Iranian forces and paramilitary groups in the country.

Consolidating territory

Over the past year, regime forces have made territorial gains with the help of Russia's military. Damascus has negotiated similar withdrawal deals following bloody campaigns that have cost hundreds of civilian and rebel lives.

Last week, Damascus negotiated a deal that saw rebel groups withdraw from Eastern Ghouta near the capital, considered one of the last opposition strongholds. Similar deals are underway in besieged Damascus suburbs, including the Beit Sahm, Babila and Yalda districts.

Read more: Syrian war crimes accountability mechanism short on funds

As the Syrian conflict winds down, Damascus is attempting to consolidate territory across the country in a bid to secure its interests in future peace talks. The government's latest offensives in Homs and Eastern Ghouta have dealt a fatal blow to the opposition movement.

More than 350,000 people have been killed and more than half Syria's population displaced since 2011, when government forces launched a brutal campaign against protesters calling for President Bashar Assad to step down.

Since then, the conflict has transformed into a multifront war drawing in global superpowers, regional players and nonstate actors.

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ls/msh (Reuters, AFP)