Syrians flee besieged Homs in hundreds as ceasefire extended

Russia News.Net
Monday 10th February, 2014

DAMASCUS Around 300 Syrians fled Homs Monday after both sides agreed to extend a three-day truce in the Old City, taking the total number of those evacuated to 1,000 since Friday.

The Syrian Red Crescent confirmed the latest evacuations on Twitter.

Hundreds of civilians, mainly women, children and old men, were allowed to leave the besieged, rebel-held neighbourhoods of Syria’s third-largest city, Homs, at the weekend after the local governor agreed to a truce with the UN.

Khaled Erksoussi, the Red Crescent’s head of operations, says the group was notified that a ceasefire in Homs that ended Sunday has been extended “for a few days.”

Video footage from inside Homs showed scores of residents, carrying a few bags of possessions, rushing across an open expanse of no-man’s land towards 10 white vehicles with U.N. markings. Gunshots could be heard as they raced to the cars.

“The last vehicle has arrived and the total is 611 people,” Homs governor Talal Barazi told regional Arab broadcaster Al Mayadeen at a meeting point for evacuees outside the city.

The Red Crescent confirmed that around 600 people were evacuated and said 60 food parcels and more than a ton of flour were delivered to the Old City.

Barazi and Red Crescent officials said they were working to extend the operation beyond Sunday, the final day of a fragile and frequently violated three-day ceasefire in the city, reports Reuters.

Meanwhile, government and opposition negotiators have resumed peace talks in Geneva. Analysts say that little progress is expected.

The opposition wants the government to commit in writing to the 2012 Geneva Communique, which called for the formation of a transitional administration with full executive authority.

President Bashar al-Assad’s government has ruled out any transfer of power.

The first round of talks ended last month with no firm agreements and both sides trading insults.

The second round opened on Monday with preliminary discussions aimed at thrashing out an agenda, but the two sides have not yet met face-to-face.

International mediator Lakhdar Brahimi has been pushing for agreement on aid deliveries and prisoner releases, hoping progress on those issues could build momentum to address the far more contentious question of political transition.

Assad’s government has rejected any surrender of power in Geneva, and on the ground his forces have made gains while rival rebel forces battle each other in the north and east of the country.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-Assad monitoring group, said that 304 people were killed across the country on Saturday, including more than 100 civilians.

Syria’s civil conflict has claimed more than 100,000 lives since 2011 and has driven 9.5 million people from their homes.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said France and other countries would present a resolution at the UN calling for greater access for humanitarian aid.

“We are asking for stronger action as far as the humanitarian side is concerned, that medicines and food supplies are handed out in cities,” he told French radio.

“It is absolutely scandalous that there have been discussions for quite a while and that people are still being starved every day, and so along with a number of other countries we will present a resolution at the UN along those lines.”

But China and Russia did not turn up for preliminary discussions on the draft.

Russian diplomats had already dismissed the idea of a so-called humanitarian resolution.

The Syrian government has acknowledged that some of those evacuated from Homs on Sunday were detained after they left.

A Syrian information ministry spokesman told the BBC that 103 “militants” had been detained for security checks, but had since been released.

But other reports suggest the men have not been released, and are still being detained with their families, said BBC.

A third shipment of chemical weapons from the government’s arsenal has left Syria, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said

Rebel fighters from the hardline Islamist group Jund al-Aqsa have killed at least 21 civilians and 20 pro-government militiamen in Maan, a predominantly Alawite village in Hama province, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has said

The jihadist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) is reported to have withdrawn from the eastern province of Deir al-Zour after days of heavy fighting with rival rebel groups

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