UN evacuation of Homs civilians under way

[07-02-2014 02:20 PM]

Ammon News - A UN convoy of buses has arrived in the besieged city of Homs to start the initial evacuation of 200 women and children, with state TV reporting that the evacuation has started.

The humanitarian breakthrough comes as the Syrian deputy foreign minister has said the government will take part in a second round of peace talks in Geneva.

The convoy arrived on Friday after an uneasy ceasefire came into effect following the implementation of a truce discussed at the Geneva 2 peace talks last week.

The sustained ceasefire has allowed the evacuation to begin with only slight delays, but an expected delivery of humanitarian aid and food has been delayed until Saturday.

Speaking to Syrian state television, Homs governor Talal al-Barazi said the atmosphere was "positive" ahead of the operation which is expected to begin around midday and allow women, children and elderly to leave the besieged old city.
Al Jazeera's Nisreen El-Shamayleh, reporting on the UN evacuation of Homs from neighbouring Lebanon, said the evacuation was due to logistical and technical reasons, including security concerns.

The besieged city remained quiet later on Friday, adding to hopes the truce would continue long enough for the initial evacuation to be completed.

Some expressed concern over the fact that, while women and children would be evacuated, men in rebel-held Old Homs between the ages of 15 to 55 would have to register and "regularise their status", which is similar to surrender.

While 200 people should be evacuated today, it is thought thousands still remain trapped in Homs, which is divided between rebel and pro-government areas.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague tweeted: "Aid for Homs needs to be unconditional; deeply concerned for those left in the city Syria."

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Maqdad said the government was "very happy" that the evacuations were now possible.

"This will allow innocent civilians, children and people with special needs, to leave the country," he said.

"We're very happy that we found the possibility to bring out these people and to provide those who are in need inside Homs,with the humanitarian aid they deserve."

The rebel-held Old Homs districts in the centre of the city have been under tight siege from President Bashar al-Assad's troops since June 2012. Thousands of residents there live in dire conditions, amid an acute shortage of food and medicine.

'Immediate delivery'

The United Nations welcomed reports of the agreement and said it had provisions ready to go.

"The United Nations and humanitarian partners had pre-positioned food, medical and other basic supplies on the outskirts of Homs ready for immediate delivery as soon as the green light was given by the parties for its passage. Aid staff were also on standby," UN spokesman Farhan Haq said in a statement in New York.

At the Geneva talks, the Syrian government said women and children could leave the besieged parts of Homs immediately.

Al Jazeera's diplomatic editor James Bays, reporting from UN headquarters in New York, said more detailed statements from a Security Council meeting on Thursday were expected when it ended.

At the Geneva talks, the government asked the opposition to provide names of male civilians who may wish to leave the siege imposed by its forces along with women and children.


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