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Cease-fire in Homs another defeat for Syria opposition forces

Homs, once called 'capital of the revolution,' was one of first cities to rise up against President Bashar al-Assad

A cease-fire was declared in the besieged Syrian city of Homs on Friday, with the agreement between government and rebel forces meaning that the country's third-largest city will come under control of forces loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad, yet another severe blow to rebel chances in the three-year long civil war.

The deal came as two car bombs in Syria's central province of Hama killed 18 people, including 11 children, and wounded 50 others on Friday, state television said. 

Friday's cease-fire in the battleground city of Homs will allow hundreds of fighters holed up in its old quarters to evacuate. If the agreement holds up and rebel fighters leave, the capture of the city will be a significant victory for Assad, weeks before presidential elections set for June 3. Assad will seek a third term in office, an election he is all but guaranteed to win, defying opponents who have demanded he step aside to allow a negotiated solution to Syria's three-year conflict.

Homs, in the central western plains of Syria, was one of the first cities to rise up 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, it was the first city largely taken over by armed rebels as the uprising evolved into outright civil war.

Ever since, Assad's forces have been engaged in grueling urban warfare trying to wrest it back. For the past several months, rebels were isolated and blockaded inside a string of Homs neighborhoods centered around its historic old quarters, battered by heavy government airstrikes and artillery.

"This isn't what we wanted," a Homs-based opposition activist, Beibars Tilawi, said of the cease-fire in a Skype interview with The Associated Press. "But it's all we could get."

The deal is also a face-saving measure for the rebels. It calls for a 48-hour truce in rebel-held parts of Homs, after which, hundreds of fighters holed up in the area will be evacuated to opposition-held areas north of the city, said Tilawi and another activist who uses the name Thaer Khalildiya, who is based in the countryside north of Homs.

There was no immediate comment by Syrian officials.

The 48-hours truce began on Friday, said the Homs-based activists Tilawi and Khalidiya, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-Assad group based in the United Kinddom. The Observatory bases its information from a network of activists on the ground.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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