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Hundreds take to the streets of Rastan to welcome Syrian army

HUNDREDS of civilians took the streets of liberated Rastan city in the north Homs countryside today to welcome arriving Syrian troops after jihadist groups evacuated the area.

The Syrian Arab Army officially took over several towns and villages formerly held by the opposition in north Homs and south Hama provinces.

Army general command announced that it had cleared an area of 1,200 square kilometres, restoring security and stability to 65 towns and villages previously controlled by jihadist fighters who were allowed to leave the area after turning over their heavy and medium weapons.

As a result of the rebel evacuation, the government reasserted control over a power station, a refinery and a cement factory.

Government forces have now secured major roads between the country's three main cities — Damascus, Aleppo and Homs — for the first time since the civil war began in 2011.

About 200,000 people have relocated since March to other parts of Syria as part of surrender deals by jihadist forces organised, armed and supplied by foreign governments.

More than 30,000 have left northern Homs and southern Hama in the last few days alone.

"The brave armed forces, with support from allies, have completed the clearing of 1,200 square kilometres (463 square miles) in rural northern Homs and southern Hama and have restored security to 65 villages and towns," said Brigadier General Ali Mayhoub.

"This achievement is important because the armed terrorism has been uprooted from this vital geographical area in central Syria.”

Security forces began deploying in the evacuated towns and villages on Tuesday, completing their deployment by raising the flag in Rastan, which was a stronghold for the Syrian opposition for years.

The deals were mediated by Russia, which has deployed its military police to the evacuated areas.

A small pocket in southern Homs province, near the border with Iraq, is still controlled by US-backed rebels.

Russian and Syrian air forces launched their biggest attack yet on Isis-held areas of Hajar al-Aswad, Yarmouk Camp, and Al-Tadamon in southern Damascus yesterday.

Their bombardment was followed by a ground offensive led by regulars alongside Palestinian paramilitary units.

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