Published On: Fri, May 9th, 2014

Syrian rebels held in Homs by Assad forces

The Syrian army in Homs is holding around 270 rebels initially granted safe exit from the city after insurgents elsewhere failed to uphold their side of the agreement, Syrian officials said on Friday.

Following a year of siege, around 1,200 rebels and residents in the old city of Homs left on buses this week in exchange for the release of dozens of captives the rebels were holding in the northern provinces of Aleppo and Latakia.

Officials said rebels had also agreed to allow aid into the northern Shia towns of Nubl and Zahraa, which are under opposition siege, but as of Friday a convoy of food and medical relief was stuck at insurgent checkpoints outside the towns.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the 270 rebels being held in Homs would only be released when the aid reached Nubl and Zahraa.

They did not specify which groups had blocked the aid. Activists saidSyria‘s al-Qaida offshoot, the Nusra Front, prevented aid convoys from getting to Nubl and Zahraa on Wednesday, but other armed rebels were also active in the area.

More than 150,000 people have been killed in the conflict, which has become increasingly sectarian as rival regional powers have backed either Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, a member of the Shia Alawite sect, or the overwhelmingly Sunni rebels who oppose him.

Millions more have fled their homes and fighting regularly kills more than 200 people a day.

The fall of Syria’s third largest city to government forces is a major blow to the opposition and a boost for Assad, weeks before his likely re-election.