Syrians stream back into devastated Homs

Many were visibly emotional at the sight of their former neighborhoods, now rendered almost unrecognizable

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Hundreds of Syrians streamed back into the devastated Old City of Homs on Saturday, picking through the ruins of their homes after a deal that evacuated rebels from the area.

They 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.

Many were visibly emotional at the sight of their former neighborhoods, now rendered almost unrecognizable.

"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 final convoy of rebels withdrew from the Old City on Friday, handing control of all but one district of Homs to the government under a deal negotiated between the regime and opposition forces.

As the rebels left, government troops swept the evacuated neighborhoods for explosives.

Homs governor Talal Barazi told state news agency SANA on Saturday that the areas were now "safe and free of weapons and insurgents thanks to the sacrifices of the Syrian army."

State television carried live footage of the influx of residents, interviewing people who offered their thanks to the army and President Bashar al-Assad.

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