8 Feb 2014

Civilians moved from besieged city

9:42 am on 8 February 2014

Emergency officials have started to evacuate groups of civilians from the besieged Syrian city of Homs under a temporary truce negotiated by the United Nations.

Most of the evacuees were elderly men and women.

Most of the evacuees were elderly men and women. Photo: AFP

Observers say most of those in the first three busloads of evacuees were elderly women and men.

Homs has suffered some of the worst devastation of Syria's three-year conflict, with the rebel-held Old City under siege by government forces for a year and a half.

Under the ceasefire agreement, women, children and old men are allowed to leave the area and humanitarian supplies will be allowed in to help those who remain.

The agreement is the first positive result of peace talks launched two weeks ago between Syria's warring foes and which resume next week in Geneva.

The buses carrying dozens of weary-looking evacuees, accompanied by Syrian Arab Red Crescent officials, arrived at a meeting point outside Homs watched by soldiers and police, Reuters reports.

Syrian authorities and aid groups said they expected around 200 people to leave the rebel-controlled neighbourhoods. By Friday afternoon about 80 people had been evacuated, a UN official told Syrian television. It was the first time the Red Crescent had gained access to the centre of Homs since the siege began, the aid agency said.

The World Food Programme said it had trucks ready to take a month's supply of food on Saturday to the estimated 2500 hungry and malnourished people who have been trapped for months in the rebel-held heart of the city.

The city was one of the first areas to erupt in protest against President Bashar al-Assad nearly three years ago and where street after street has been destroyed in heavy fighting between the leader's forces and rebels seeking his overthrow.

Syria's conflict began with peaceful protests against four decades of Assad family rule and degenerated into an armed insurgency after a fierce security crackdown.

Now the major Arab state is in a full-scale civil war that has killed more than 130,000 people and forced over 6 million - nearly a third of the population - to flee their homes.