BEIRUT (Reuters) – The Syrian government re-opened the highway between the cities of Homs and Hama on Wednesday a month after its forces retook a rebel-held pocket that had straddled the road that was closed for almost seven years.
Motorists waved Syrian flags as they drove down the highway whose re-opening marked a victory for President Bashar al-Assad, who in recent months has taken control of all rebel-held pockets around the capital Damascus as well as the enclave along the highway which had been under siege for years.
From holding less than a fifth of Syria in 2015, Assad, with Russian and Iranian help, has recovered control of the largest chunk of the country.
Without the highway, traffic had to take an indirect route to travel the 45 km (30 miles) between Syria’s third and fourth largest pre-war cities.
Residents from Talbiseh, a town just north of Homs controlled by rebels until early May, said they were relieved to see the highway re-open.
“If we wanted to go to Homs before, we had to go halfway around the world,” said 42-year-old farmer Hussein al-Muhammad. “Now it will just take us quarter of an hour.”
Another Talbiseh farmer, 61-year-old Hamoud Alloush, said he had survived the years of siege by eating what he could grow. He had already been to Homs and back to sell his produce on Wednesday.
“(The journey) used to take more than two hours,” he said.
Significant areas of Syria still remain beyond Assad’s grasp, including nearly all of the north, much of the east, and a chunk of the southwest, areas where foreign interests will complicate further gains.