Syria: scramble to evacuate Homs as ceasefire is extended

Feb 12, 2014

Warring sides in Syria blame one another for an escalation in violence that has killed hundreds in recent days

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AID agencies hope to resume the evacuation of civilians from the Syrian city of Homs today after the operation was suspended on Tuesday due to "logistical problems".

Both sides in the conflict have now agreed to extend the three-day ceasefire that was set to end on Wednesday to allow UN officials to complete their evacuation.

Hundreds of civilians remain trapped in the historic Old City of Homs, which has been a flashpoint for conflict between Syrian government forces and rebels since it became a hub of the revolt against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad 18 months ago, the BBC reports.

The "humanitarian pause" in fighting comes as a "a rare glimmer of light in a dark and devastating war", said Lyse Douset, the BBC's chief international correspondent in Homs. "The UN says the mission has already helped a 'significant' number of people to leave the besieged area and a 'limited' amount of aid is getting in," she reported.

However the evacuation was unexpectedly halted on Tuesday. "Today, operations didn't take place for logistical and technical reasons," said Homs governor Talal Barazi, without elaborating.

The ceasefire has now been extended until the weekend, but hopes that the new deadline might lead to a breakthrough for peace talks in Geneva were dashed as both sides became "bogged down in recriminations" over a recent escalation of violence, The Times reports.

Representatives for the Syrian government and rebel groups blamed one another for clashes that have killed hundreds of people in fighting across the country in recent days.

"If there is no progress at all, I think it would be a waste of time to think about a third round (of talks)," Louay Safi, the opposition spokesman, said.

Meanwhile, UN facilitators expressed hope that the extension of the ceasefire might help aid reach those who need it most.

"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," Baroness Amos, the UN humanitarian chief said in a statement.

The International Committee of the Red Cross and the World Food Programme have also expressed the need for unimpeded access to civilians trapped by fighting.

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