11 Feb 2014

Aid mission in Syrian city extended

8:55 pm on 11 February 2014

A truce that has allowed the evacuation of hundreds of civilians from besieged districts of the Syrian city of Homs has been extended for three days after peace talks resumed in Switzerland.

Monday's extension of the tenuous truce in Homs came as about 450 civilians were given safe passage out of the war-ravaged city, according to Syria's Red Crescent, bringing the total number allowed out since Friday to 1200.

Civilians leaving a besieged district in Homs.

Civilians leaving a besieged district in Homs. Photo: AFP

The evacuation of civilians from neighbourhoods where they had been trapped for nearly 18 months was marred by violence at the weekend, with 14 people killed in shelling that threatened to derail the humanitarian mission, AFP reports.

Footage distributed by activists showed scores of traumatised men, women and children making their way down a rubble-strewn road on Monday flanked by rows of United Nations vehicles.

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 Wednesday night, but said aid workers had witnessed "terrible conditions" in a field hospital there.

Ms Amos pointed out 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.

The International Committee of the Red Cross and the World Food Programme (WFP) have also called for unimpeded access. Aid organisations hoped to deliver more food and medicine on Tuesday.

Talks in Geneva

In Geneva, 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 in late January.

UN and Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi began the latest session 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.

Mr Brahimi wrote that he hoped that "separate sessions can lead to some positive outcomes," and tried to nudge the teams towards discussion of how to stop the fighting and agree on a political transition.

The situation in Homs had been discussed at the previous round of talks held in January, but a breakthrough only came later.

Homs, much of which has been reduced to rubble, was dubbed "the capital of the revolution" by activists before a bloody 2012 offensive by regime forces recaptured much of the city. The regime imposed a tight blockade on the remaining rebel-held areas shortly thereafter.