Mortar fire breaches truce, halting aid to Syria's Homs
A man stands next to debris in the road following a reported Syrian government forces air strike in the northern city of Aleppo on February 8, 2014. [AFP]
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Aid that was expected to enter the central Syrian city of Homs was halted after fighting broke out on Saturday, as Syrian military aircraft bombarded the northern city of Aleppo with barrel bombs, killing 15.
Syrian activists and officials said mortars were fired early on Saturday in the besieged Old City of Homs, in spite of a ceasefire which is intended to allow civilians to be evacuated and aid to be delivered to people confined in the city’s central areas.
A Homs activist who identified himself as Samer al-Homsy said Syrian regime forces had fired 11 rockets toward the rebel-held Hamidiyeh quarter of the city, halting the shipments, according to the Associated Press.
Both sides blamed the shelling on each other, although there were no immediate reports of casualties.
State news agency SANA quoted Homs governor Talal al-Barazi as saying “armed terrorist groups broke the truce this morning in the Old City of Homs, firing mortars at the police building,” according to Reuters.
The Syrian city of Homs was to have begun to receive U.N. aid deliveries on Saturday, a day after dozens of civilians who survived more than 600 days of army siege were evacuated.
The delivery of food and medical supplies was be carried through as part of deal between the government and armed rebels following months of negotiations brokered by the U.N.
“U.N. teams have pre-positioned food, medical and other basic supplies for immediate delivery as soon as the first group of civilians are out and we hope to send this aid on Saturday morning,” U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Syria, Yacoub El Hillo, was quoted earlier as saying by Agence France-Presse.
Haq said U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos hailed the start as a “breakthrough” and describing it as “a small but important step toward compliance with international humanitarian law.”
Activists frequently report severe food and medical shortages, with some 3,000 people - including more than 1,200 women, children, and elderly people - trapped in Homs, surviving on little more than olives and grass.
On Friday, Red Crescent volunteers aided frail-looking old men wrapped in blankets board a bus, as a woman on a stretcher awaited her turn.
The first two busses carried at least 35 women, children and elderly men, and arrived at a meeting point outside the city.
The rebel areas, which include the Old City, have been under choking army siege for more than 600 days.
Activists frequently report severe food and medical shortages, with some 3,000 people - including 1,200 women, children, and elderly people - trapped there, surviving on little more than grass and olives.
Homs has long been a key flashpoint. Early in the uprising which broke out in March 2011, thousands of people protested regularly in the city center.
Then starting early 2012, the army launched a string of massive offensives aimed at recapturing rebel areas of Syria’s third city.
In February 2012, the Baba Amr district was bombarded using tanks, helicopters, mortars and rockets, killing hundreds of people. The neighborhoods fell to army control on March 1.
The army then took back other neighborhoods, including Bayada and Inshaat. In summer 2013, the army captured rebel bastion Khaldiyeh.