UN and Arab League Special Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi is to meet representatives of the warring sides in Syria separately for the first few days of a second round of talks that began yesterday, after the breaking of a local ceasefire set back peace efforts.
In a letter reviewed by Reuters yesterday, Brahimi increased pressure on the two sides to show willingness in a peace process sponsored by Moscow and Washington that made no progress in the first round.
He said he would talk to the two Syrian sides on their own for the next few days in hope of improving the negotiating atmosphere.
In the eight-page document, dated Friday, which was given by Brahimi to both delegations at the weekend, he asked them to make a commitment at the start to deal with the two main issues: stopping the fighting and working out discussions of a transitional governing body.
“The two issues are among the most complex and sensitive and both subjects need treatment over several sessions and long discussions,” the document said.
The first round had aimed to build confidence by focusing narrowly on trying to agree a humanitarian ceasefire in the devastated city of Homs, but the truce was not finalized until afterward and was broken soon after it began.
On its third day yesterday, aid officials said they were working to extend it, even though aid convoys had come under fire as they evacuated people and were briefly trapped in the city.
Aid teams evacuated hundreds of exhausted civilians from besieged Homs on Sunday.
The evacuation of about 600 of the 3,000 trapped people came as representatives from both sides converged on Geneva.
Five men were killed when one besieged district was hit by mortar fire during Sunday’s evacuation, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
They were the latest deaths in a nearly three-year conflict that has killed 136,000 people and displaced millions.
The observatory and the Syrian Red Crescent said about 600 people had been evacuated from the Old City of Homs on Sunday.
The Red Crescent said on Facebook “around 600 people evacuated today, registration is still ongoing. We managed to get 60 food parcels & 1500Kg of flour inside old city.”
The observatory said 611 were brought out — “210 women, 180 children, 91 men over 55 years old and 130 young men who surrendered to Syrian authorities under UN supervision,” adding the men “will be released soon.”
TV footage showed women, children and elderly men getting off the evacuation buses.
They appeared visibly exhausted and frail, in a video broadcast by Beirut-based channel al-Mayadeen. The civilians were aided by UN staff and Syrian Red Crescent volunteers amid a strong Syrian army presence.
“We had nothing. All the children were sick, we even had nothing to drink,” one exhausted woman said, her three children around her.
State TV said the operation took place under fire from “armed terrorist groups” — regime terminology for rebels.
However, the observatory echoed statements by activists that at least five people were killed in shelling that targeted the besieged district of Qarabis.
Activists accused pro-regime militiamen in neighborhoods bordering the besieged districts, who opposed the truce, of firing the mortar rounds.