Syrian security forces enter the town of Rastan in the central Homs province and raise the government flag along with portraits of President Bashar al-Assad in the main square on May 16, 2018 after rebels and their relatives were evacuated. Image Credit: AFP

Rastan, Syria: The Syrian regime retook full control of central Syria on Wednesday as rebels and their relatives were evacuated from final pockets of territory still outside the regime’s grasp, an AFP correspondent reported.

The evacuations from areas straddling the boundary between Homs and Hama provinces came under a deal between rebel factions and the regime.

Hundreds of people gathered in the centre of the town of Rastan in Homs province to welcome the return of regime security forces and attend a flag-raising ceremony on the main square.

Nearby towns and villages in the areas of Talbiseh and Al Hula were also evacuated, the regime’s SANA news agency and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor reported.

The armed factions were transferred to Idlib province, which still largely escapes regime control.

A total of 34,500 people — armed men and their families — were transferred out of the area as part of the deal, according to the Britain-based Observatory.

“As of today, there is not one gunman left, no weapons left in the whole of Homs province,” the province’s governor, Talal Barazai, said in Rastan.

Pockets of Daesh militants are however still thought to be active on the province’s scarcely populated far eastern edge.

The governor vowed that the Damascus-Hama highway would reopen “in the coming days”.

With Iranian and Russian support, the Syrian regime has reconquered swathes of territory it lost following the outbreak of the conflict in 2011.

Regime and allied forces have almost finished retaking areas around the capital Damascus that had been held by rebel groups for years.

They have yet to seize back a small pocket still controlled by Daesh in southern Damascus, as well as a large part of the southern Daraa province and much of Idlib, in the northwest.

A large part of northern and eastern Syria is controlled by US-backed Kurdish forces who also fought against Daesh but want a level of autonomy that the regime refuses.

More than half of Syria’s 20-million-plus pre-war population has been displaced by the seven-year-old conflict, which the Observatory says has killed more than 400,000 people.