Red Crescent escapes Homs after breach in cease fire
Members of a United Nations and Syria's Red Crescent convoy are welcomed by rebel fighters after entering a besieged district of the central city of Homs. [AFP]
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Syria’s Red Crescent said on Saturday it delivered food and medical aid to the rebel-held areas of Homs that have been under siege by government troops for more than 600 days.
“Although the team was shelled and fired upon we managed to deliver 250 food parcels, 190 hygiene kits and chronic diseases medicines,” Agence France-Presse quoted the Syrian Red Crescent as saying on Twitter.
In a statement on Twitter, it said one truck driver suffered a minor injury and two damaged trucks had been left inside the Old City. It also said that the joint aid team of United Nations and Syrian Red Crescent workers had safely left Homs.
Earlier, the Red Crescent tweeted that “shots fired targeting aid trucks and the team,” without accusing anyone -- government forces or rebels -- of being responsible. It also said a Red Crescent “aid truck driver (was) injured.”
“Mortar shells falling in close proximity near the team and aid trucks that moved into Old City,” a second tweet said.
Meanwhile, the Syrian state television said that four members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent were wounded by rebel fighters on Saturday as the aid workers tried to deliver humanitarian supplies to Homs.
Reuters reported the official state television saying that the Red Crescent members came under fire from “armed terrorist groups,” the label authorities give to rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad. There was no immediate comment from rebel or opposition groups.
The humanitarian convoy had been delayed since Saturday morning by mortar fire in Homs, which the two warring sides blamed each other for, in violation of a three-day ceasefire for civilians to leave central Homs and aid supplies to get in.
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.
Earlier on Saturday, a United Nations convoy with food and medical supplies was on standby to enter the Old City and deliver its first shipment of aid to the district since 2012.
The Syrian city of Homs was 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 to 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 AFP.
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 helped frail-looking old men wrapped in blankets board a bus, as a woman on a stretcher awaited her turn.
Three busloads of civilians were moved from rebel-held parts of Homs, accompanied by the volunteers, Reuters reported.
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 an army siege for more than 600 days.
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.