Red Crescent: 300 more evacuated from Homs
A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on February 9, 2014, civilians exiting the bus after being evacuated from the besieged district. [AFP]
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Three hundred people were evacuated on Monday from army-besieged districts of Syria’s Homs, the Syrian Red Crescent said, as humanitarian operations continued into a fourth day.
“Group of around 300 people have been evacuated just now from old city Homs,” said the humanitarian organization.
The United Nations has said an operation to allow civilians to leave besieged districts of the Syrian city of Homs will be extended until Wednesday night.
The announcement on Monday was welcomed by U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos, and follows a successful but difficult three-day operation to allow civilians to leave Homs, with gunfire and attacks frustrating progress.
Monday’s evacuation comes after some 700 people were given safe passage out of the besieged districts since a UN-brokered truce was put in place Friday.
The operation has been aimed at getting civilians trapped in the Old City area to safety while bringing much-needed aid for those who choose to stay.
The truce has however been violated several times, with an aid convoy targeted on Saturday.
Shelling has killed 14 people in the besieged districts since Friday, according to the Observatory, a Britain-based group relying on activists and other sources inside Syria.
The regime and rebels have swapped accusations over the violations, which the U.N. has condemned.
On the backdrop of the humanitarian operation in Homs, a second round of peace talks between the Syrian regime and the opposition Syrian National Coalition opened in Geneva on Monday.
But the peace talks got off to a shaky start with the international mediator meeting the two sides separately after violations of a local ceasefire and an Islamist offensive set back his efforts.
Ahead of the talks, mediator Lakhdar Brahimi told delegates to commit first to discussing both ending the fighting and setting up a transitional government. The government side said combating “terrorism” - its catchall term for the revolt - should be agreed first.
The second round was intended to follow quickly after no substantive progress was made last month at the first round of talks in nearly three years of civil war.
Brahimi had tried to break down mutual distrust by focusing on agreeing a truce for a single city, Homs, but even that was only achieved after the first round was over, and aid workers were fired upon as they evacuated civilians on Saturday, Reuters reported.
A letter from Brahimi given to the delegates over the weekend said the new round aimed to tackle the issues of stopping violence, setting up a transitional governing body, and plans for national institutions and reconciliation.
The opposition says a transitional governing body must exclude President Bashar al-Assad. The government says it will not discuss his leaving power.
The opposition said it had handed Brahimi its view of what a transitional government should look like and submitted witness statements it said showed the Syrian army had fired at the Homs aid convoy. The government blames the rebels.
The opposition also said there had been an escalation in the government’s use of “barrel bombs” - oil drums or cylinders packed with explosives and metal fragments and usually dropped from helicopters. It said more than 1,800 Syrians had been killed by them last week, half in rebel held parts of Aleppo.
“It is not acceptable that the regime will send its own delegation to peace talks while it is killing our people in Syria. This must stop,” opposition spokesman Louay al-Safi told reporters after the delegation met Brahimi.