Convoy ready to enter Homs after Syria gives green light

Published January 27th, 2014 - 08:54 GMT

An aid convoy was poised to enter the Syrian city of Homs Monday after the regime agreed in peace talks to let women and children leave a blockaded area.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the special U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria who is mediating the talks in Geneva, Switzerland, said he hoped the humanitarian convoy from the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross would be able to enter the closed-off Homs areas later in the day.

Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi told al-Jazeera the regime was coordinating security efforts to ensure its safety.

But Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad was quoted by the New York Times as saying Syria feared armed rebels would refuse to hold their fire.

"Once we start giving access to these people to leave, the armed groups will start bombarding them," he said.

The Assad regime would not be responsible if civilians are harmed, he added.

Non-combatant male civilians will be allowed to leave too, the regime said, but only after their names are submitted for government scrutiny.

This raised fears they would be subject to arrest, the Times said.

The evacuation plan fell short of what international mediators sought -- the entry of a U.N. aid convoy to areas of the city that have been without access to food for months and where malnutrition is on the rise.

About 800 families, or about 5,000 people, are reported trapped in besieged parts of the western city 100 miles north of Damascus, including some who are very ill.

"The city has been under total siege for 595 days," a woman who gave her name as Mirna told Britain's Daily Telegraph by Skype. "Food and medical supplies have run out, and we are under continuous bombardment. Minor injuries lead to death because of the lack of medical equipment."

The prospect of a humanitarian evacuation came as delegates were scheduled but unlikely Monday to discuss the divisive issue of establishing a transitional governing body for Syria, several Western news organizations reported.

The transitional governing body would run the country until elections could be held.

The opposition says Assad could not be part of any of it.

Zoubi responded to that idea Sunday, saying anyone expecting Assad to leave was living "in a mythical world, and let them stay in Alice in Wonderland."

Nonetheless, Brahimi expressed general optimism about the talks, while acknowledging they were proceeding slowly.

He said he expected both sides Monday would "make some general statement about the way forward."

He said he imagined the talks would follow Sunday's format, where he would hold a joint session with the regime and opposition in the morning and then meet with each side separately in the afternoon.

No direct words were exchanged between the delegations Sunday. Instead, the two sides talked to each other through Brahimi.

Brahimi, a veteran Algerian diplomat who was involved in Lebanese and Afghan peace efforts, said he was encouraged by the atmosphere of Sunday's session, saying it exemplified "respect and exchange."

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