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Reports: Ceasefire reached in Syrian city of Homs

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FILE – This file photo released on Monday, June 18, 2012 by the anti-government activist group Rebels Battalion of Baba Amro, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian rebels holding their weapons as they prepare to fight against Syrian troops, in Homs province, Syria. Syria’s government and rebels agreed to a ceasefire on Friday, May 2, 2014 in the battleground city of Homs to allow hundreds of fighters holed up in its old quarters to evacuate, a deal that will bring the country’s third-largest city under control of forces loyal to President Bashar Assad. (AP Photo/Rebels Battalion of Baba Amro, File)

FILE – This file photo released on Monday, June 18, 2012 by the anti-government activist group Rebels Battalion of Baba Amro, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian rebels holding their weapons as they prepare to fight against Syrian troops, in Homs province, Syria. Syria’s government and rebels agreed to a ceasefire on Friday, May 2, 2014 in the battleground city of Homs to allow hundreds of fighters holed up in its old quarters to evacuate, a deal that will bring the country’s third-largest city under control of forces loyal to President Bashar Assad. (AP Photo/Rebels Battalion of Baba Amro, File)

FILE – This file photo released on Thursday Nov. 29, 2012 by the anti-government activist group Homs City Union of The Syrian Revolution, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian citizens walking in a destroyed street that was attacked by Syrian forces warplanes, at Abu al-Hol street in Homs province, Syria. Syria’s government and rebels agreed to a ceasefire on Friday, May 2, 2014 in the battleground city of Homs to allow hundreds of fighters holed up in its old quarters to evacuate, a deal that will bring the country’s third-largest city under control of forces loyal to President Bashar Assad. (AP Photo/Homs City Union of The Syrian Revolution, File)

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, a Syrian boy who was injured by a car bomb lies on a hospital bed in Hama, Syria, Friday, May 2, 2014. Syrian state-run television said vehicles exploded in Jadreen and Humayri villages, which are under government control, in the central province of Hama. More than a dozen were killed and wounded, including several children. (AP Photo/SANA)

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, a Syrian boy who was injured by a car bomb lies on a hospital bed in Hama, Syria, Friday, May 2, 2014. Syrian state-run television said vehicles exploded in Jadreen and Humayri villages, which are under government control, in the central province of Hama. More than a dozen were killed and wounded, including several children. (AP Photo/SANA)

This photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center (AMC), which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian people carry their belongings from a building that was hit by Syrian government airstrike in Aleppo , in Aleppo, Syria, Monday, April 28, 2014. Dozens of people were killed and wounded in fighting between pro-Assad forces and rebels in the northern city of Aleppo on Sunday, reported the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The fight for Aleppo is particularly important now, with analysts saying they expect Assad’s forces will try wrest as much of the city as possible before elections. (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center AMC)

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HOMS, Syria (AP) — Syria’s government and rebels agreed to a ceasefire Friday in the battleground city of Homs to allow hundreds of fighters holed up in its old quarters to evacuate, a move that would surrender almost total control of the city once known as the “capital of the revolution” to forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.

The capture of Homs, Syria’s third largest city, would be a significant victory for Assad, weeks before presidential elections set for June 3 — if the agreement goes through and rebel fighters leave.

The 48-hour cease-fire deal came after weeks of unprecedented pounding of rebel-held districts by government force. One Homs-based opposition activist said it was a bitter moment for the rebels who have been barricaded in 13 neighborhoods around Homs’ historic center.

“This isn’t what we wanted, but it’s all we could get,” Beibars Tilawi told The Associated Press in a Skype interview. “The regime wanted to take control of the heart of the revolution.” Evacuations may start on Saturday, he said.

Residents of Homs, in the central western plains of Syria, were among the first to rise fiercely against Assad’s rule three years ago, earning it the nickname of the “capital of the revolution.” After waves of anti-Assad protests by its residents, rebels seized control of much of the city and Homs quickly became the focus of the worst violence of the uprising, now in its fourth year.

Homs, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) north of Damascus, is particularly important for its centrality. It links the capital with Aleppo in the north — the country’s largest city and another key battleground.

Large swathes of Homs have been blasted into rubble as Assad’s forces engaged in grueling urban warfare trying to wrest it back. For more than a year, government troops have blockaded rebels inside a string of districts spread over some eight miles (13 kilometers), causing widespread hunger and weakening the fighters.

Heavy airstrikes and artillery bombardment of rebel-held areas intensified in past weeks, as government troops won other victories further south near Damascus and the Lebanon border, hurting supply lines. Rebels outside Homs did not come to the aid of the fighters within, and the past few months hundreds of fighters surrendered to Assad-loyal forces, activists said.

But a hardcore group remained fighting, dispatching explosive-rigged cars into government-controlled districts of Homs, killing dozens of people, mostly civilians. Most recently, a

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