Mon, Feb 10, 2014 - Page 1 News List

Attack raises fears about the evacuation of Homs


Arab Red Crescent trucks stand in a besieged neighborhood of Homs, Syria, to supply humanitarian aid on Saturday.

Photo: Reuters

Aid workers were hoping to evacuate civilians trapped in Syria’s besieged city of Homs yesterday, one day after their convoy was shelled, killing five residents.

The humanitarian operation made possible by a UN-brokered local truce was set to take place on the eve of a new round of talks between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the rebels battling to overthrow him.

Another 300 people were killed as battles raged across Syria on Saturday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the latest deaths in a nearly three-year conflict that has killed 136,000 people and displaced millions.

The long-delayed humanitarian mission for Homs is entering its third day, with activists in besieged parts of the city fearing that Saturday’s violence may impeded efforts to evacuate civilians.

“We hope more aid will come in and we hope the civilians can be evacuated, but we don’t know whether that will happen,” said Abu Bilal, an activist trapped by the siege.

The regime and the rebels traded blame for the attack, with Homs Governor Talal al-Barazi insisting that the government was committed to the truce and the aid operation, “despite the [rebel] armed groups’ violations.”

On Friday, 83 elderly people, women and children were evacuated from besieged rebel-held districts — where residents have been surviving on little more than wild herbs and olives for several months — and aid was delivered on Saturday despite the shelling of the convoy.

“Although the team was shelled and fired upon we managed to deliver 250 food parcels, 190 hygiene kits and chronic diseases medicines,” the Red Crescent said on Twitter.

The operation was made possible by a surprise UN-brokered deal between the government and rebels to observe a three-day “humanitarian pause” in hostilities.

The truce — which had so far been observed at press time yesterday — had eluded mediators in last month’s fruitless round of peace talks in Geneva, which the warring sides are set to restart this week.

The Observatory, a UK-based group that relies on a network of activists and sources in Syria for its data, said five people were killed during Saturday’s attack, including a rebel commander.

The UN said it was “deeply disappointed” with the truce violations.

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