- The pact is slated to go into effect at noon (5 a.m. ET) Wednesday
- Rebels will allow delivery of food and medical aid to regime strongholds, opposition says
- The truce comes less than a month before the presidential election
A truce between Syrian government and rebel forces that had been set to go into force Tuesday in the city of Homs will instead take effect Wednesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Under the cease-fire, rebels will allow the Syrian military to deliver food and medical aid to the pro-regime Shiite strongholds of Nubul and Zahraa in rural Aleppo, the London-based opposition group said. The truce is slated to begin now at noon (5 a.m. ET) Wednesday.
Lebanon's Al Mayadeen News, a pro-Syrian government channel, reported that rebels in Homs would need to identify where they had planted mines before leaving the city.
Syria's rebels say that the truce in Homs was brokered after they agreed to release 70 Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, 20 Iranian officers captured by the Islamic Front in Aleppo and an Iranian female agent who was captured at the end of March.
Representatives of the rebel fighters and the Islamic battalions have negotiated in recent days with those of regime forces, the pro-regime National Defense militias, Lebanese Shiite party of Hezbollah and the governor of Homs, the observatory said.
The talks were mediated by civil committees and the United Nations in the presence of representatives from the Iranian and Russian embassies.
The observatory added it was not known whether the Iranian and Russian delegates were directly involved in negotiations or acted as observers.
It said that the pact will call for:
1. The withdrawal of rebel and Islamist fighters from Homs neighborhoods under the supervision of regime forces and delegates from the United Nations;
2. The opening by rebel forces of a safe passage for the provision of food and medical aid to the Shiite enclaves of Nubul and Zahraa in the Aleppo countryside, considered to be regime strongholds the rebels have blocked for months;
3. The withdrawal of rebel forces from Homs via the Hama-Homs highway toward Al-dara Al-Kabira in Homs province's north countryside;
4. The granting of amnesty to 50 fighters who defected from regime forces in Homs' al-Waer neighborhood;
5. The takeover by regime forces of the al-Waer neighborhood in Homs in addition to the entrance and exit into the neighborhoods of Jouret Shiah, Al-Qarabees, Hamidiyeh, Wadi Al-Sayeh and the Old City of Homs;
6. Retreating rebel and Islamist fighters to keep their personal weapons for protection in the event of any breach of the pact.
Syria's opposition has tried to spin the truce as a victory over President Bashar al-Assad's regime. "This deal proves that the Assad regime is a puppet manipulated by Iran, and that it is the sole importer of terrorists, and perhaps the exclusive agent of terrorism in the region," said Noura Al Ameer, vice president of the opposition Syrian Coalition.
"This deal also shows that the Assad regime is nothing more than a military arm for the external powers that are trying to impose its dominance on Syria," she said.
Al Ameer accused al-Assad of seeking to change the demography of Homs by allowing rebels to evacuate from the city's besieged quarter but predicted such a plan would fail. "The timing of this truce coincides with the farcical presidential elections the Assad regime intends to hold," she said, referring to a vote slated for June 3.
"Assad must realize that the people who were forced to take up arms as a result of the international silence toward his massacres will not give up their pursuit of freedom and dignity despite all the odds."
The Syrian Coalition expressed doubt that the truce would hold. "We fear for the safety of those in Homs as the regime has always reneged on its promises," the group said.
On Saturday, Talal al-Barazi, governor of Homs province, told Syrian state news agency SANA that negotiations regarding the removal of weapons and gunmen from the Old City of Homs had been ongoing for more than two months and were part of the government's efforts to restore security and stability to all of Syria.
"We're closer to a solution, and we have mechanisms for implementing it, but it's not over yet," he said, adding that the atmosphere was positive.