Russia says three-day Homs ceasefire agreed
A three-day ceasefire has been agreed as part of what it called a “landmark” deal to allow for the evacuation of civilians from Homs and supplies of humanitarian aid for those who choose to remain, Reuters reported Russia as saying on Friday.
The Russian embassy in Damascus “played an energetic role” in what it said was an agreement reached in negotiations between the local governor and a regional U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Syria, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
Civilians are evacuated
A first group of civilians was evacuated from besieged rebel-held areas of Homs on Friday under the U.N.-supervised deal between the Syrian government and opposition.
Some 12 civilians came out on the first evacuation bus, among nearly 200 expected to be brought out during the day, an AFP correspondent reported.
State television broadcast footage of the vehicle leaving a meeting point just outside one of the besieged areas amid a heavy troop presence.
Most of those on the first bus out were elderly people, an activist inside the rebel enclave, who gave his name only as Ghaith, told AFP via the Internet.
Meanwhile, the Syrian government had decided to participate in the second round of peace talks in the Swiss city of Geneva, state television reported Syria’s deputy foreign minister as saying Friday.
“The participation of the delegation of the Syrian Arab Republic in the Geneva conference in the second round of talks next Monday has been decided,” Reuters quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad as saying.
The conclusion of the first round of peace talks, however, didn’t help to create ceasefire on ground in Syria.
U.N. denounces aerial attacks
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon on Thursday condemned attacks against civilians in Syria, in particular aerial attacks with explosive-packed barrel bombs, Agence France-Presse reported.
“The Secretary-General is following with deep concern the continued armed escalation in Syria, most deplorably the ongoing aerial attacks and the use of ‘barrel bombs’ to brutal, devastating effect in populated areas,” AFP quoted Ban’s spokesman, Martin Nesirky, as saying.
In the past six days of such regime attacks on the city of Aleppo, more than 250 people - including 76 children - have been killed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an NGO.
Nesirky said the U.N. chief “condemns once again the indiscriminate use of any weapon against civilians, in contravention of obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law.”
He added: “All civilians must be protected in any situation.”
The most recent campaign of bombings, which began Saturday, have sparked a mass exodus from worst-hit parts of the city.
Ban urged all sides to “immediately” work on reducing violence and finding a peaceful resolution to the bloody, three-year conflict.
“The secretary-general reiterates that further violence serves the agendas of those who see military means as the only way forward, at the expense of the Syrian people,” Nesirky said.
Rebel-held Old City areas of central Homs have come under near-daily shelling ever since the army blockaded them in June 2012.
On Thursday, the Syrian government and rebels agreed a “pause” in the besieged city of Homs to allow access for humanitarian aid into the city, the United Nations said.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki welcomed Thursday’s deal to get much-needed relief into the old city and evacuate civilians.
“We understand the operations will begin tomorrow, Friday morning, and will include a local humanitarian pause while the evacuations take place and while the food and other humanitarian assistance is delivered.”
But she insisted access should not be used as “a bargaining chip” and that “an evacuation is not a substitute for the safe, regular and unfettered delivery of humanitarian assistance to those in need.”
It was a “tragedy” that civilians were forced to leave their homes in Homs to find food, she said, adding that “the regime must provide unhindered access to humanitarian workers.”
“We should not be giving credit to a regime just for providing food for a few days to people who are starving, given that’s the right moral thing to do,” she said.
“This is something they should have been doing all along.”