A truce that has allowed the evacuation of hundreds of civilians from besieged districts of Syria’s Homs was extended for three days, but fresh peace talks in Switzerland were bogged down on Monday in mutual recriminations.
The extension of the tenuous truce in Homs came as about 450 civilians were given safe passage out of the war-ravaged city, according to the Red Crescent, bringing the total number allowed out since Friday to about 1,200.
The evacuation of civilians from neighborhoods where they had been trapped for nearly 18 months was marred by violence over the weekend, with 14 people killed in shelling that threatened to derail the humanitarian mission.
Footage distributed by activists showed scores of traumatized men, women and children making their way down a rubble-strewn road on Monday flanked by rows of UN vehicles. One old woman lagged behind, alone.
Meanwhile, in Geneva, Switzerland, the warring sides blamed each other for escalating violence that has killed hundreds of people across the country in recent days, as they did throughout a previous round of talks late last month.
The Syrian opposition delegation warned it would not return for a third round if no progress was made in the current session.
“If there is no progress at all, I think it would be a waste of time to think about a third round,” opposition spokesman Louay Safi told reporters late on Monday.
UN and Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi began the latest session in Geneva by shuttling between the two sides and suggested in a letter that the parties wait until the second or third day to resume joint meetings.
Brahimi wrote that he hoped that “separate sessions can lead to some positive outcomes,” trying to nudge the teams toward discussion of how to stop the fighting and agree on a political transition.
Both sides said there would be a joint session yesterday, with the opposition saying it would begin at 10am.
The situation in Homs had been discussed at the previous round of talks held last month, but a breakthrough only came later.
About 3,000 people had been trapped there by the army siege, surviving on little more than olives and wild herbs for months. Activists said new mothers were unable to breastfeed because of malnutrition.
On Saturday, the Red Crescent was able to deliver 250 food parcels, along with hygiene kits and medicine, despite its vehicles being fired upon. One driver was wounded.
Mortar fire was also reported during the delivery.
UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos welcomed the three-day truce extension, which officials said included Monday and would expire today, but said aid workers had witnessed “terrible conditions” in a field hospital.
She said that tens of thousands of Syrians are trapped in besieged areas across the country.
“I hope that those negotiating in Geneva agree to allow the sustained delivery of aid to the 250,000 people in besieged communities in Syria and all those who are in desperate need across Syria,” she said in a statement.
Elsewhere in Syria clashes raged on several fronts and on Sunday alone 400 people were killed across the country, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group relying on activists and other witnesses inside the war-torn country.