DCSIMG

Syria: Aid teams come under fire in Homs

Aid convoy workers with locals in Homs. Picture: AFP/Getty

Aid convoy workers with locals in Homs. Picture: AFP/Getty

  • by BARBARA SURK IN BEIRUT
 

AID teams evacuated more than 500 civilians from the besieged rebel centre of Homs and delivered humanitarian aid to people who remain in the embattled Syrian city, despite coming under intense fire.

The desperate attempt to end the siege continued last night despite almost constant firing on aid workers, said Homs governor Talal al-Barazi.

A truce was supposed to be in place over the weekend to allow aid workers to access the city.

Speaking to Al Mayadeen television, Mr Barazi said 500 people had been ushered out of the city.

Government forces have surrounded the city for months, with little or no aid getting through to residents. Around 2,000 people, mainly women and children, are still thought to be trapped in the city.

The evacuation followed a day of bloodshed. Gunfire could be heard echoing around rebel-held areas of the city centre as aid workers helped women, children and elderly men leave.

Meanwhile, in the north, government aircraft dropped barrel bombs on two rebel-held districts of Aleppo, killing at least 11 people, activists said.

British-based opposition group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said explosions and gunfire near the evacuation caused casualties, although it did not offer more details.

Syrian forces loyal to president Bashar al-Assad have prevented the entry of food and medical aid into rebel-held parts of Homs for more than a year, badly affecting hundreds of civilians remaining there.

Khaled Erksoussi, the head of operations at the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SRC) aid group, said the agency will try to take as many civilians as possible from rebel-held areas in Homs before a truce expires today. He said 83 children, women and elderly people in wheelchairs were taken out on Friday when the truce went into effect.

It was broken a day later, leaving an aid worker wounded and two trucks damaged, Mr Erksoussi said.

It was not clear who fired at the convoy. Syrian state TV said members of the SRC were wounded by rebel fire in the area, but gave no further details. Opposition activists blamed government-allied militias for the attacks.

The incident came hours before the resumption of peace talks in Geneva aimed at ending the near three-year-old conflict.

United Nations mediator Lakhdar Brahimi had urged the warring sides to aid the estimated 2,500 civilians trapped in the ancient, rebel-held quarters known as Old Homs, in order to build trust during the first face-to-face meetings of government officials and opposition figures in Geneva last month.

However, there was no tangible progress as the Syrian government accused the opposition of capitalising on human suffering in Homs to score points with the international community.

A second round of talks is due to start today.

Homs city was one of the first areas to rise up against Assad in 2011. Over the past year, the government has regained control over much of the city, except for a few neighbourhoods in the historic centre.

Meanwhile, in the northern city of Aleppo, makeshift barrel bombs were dropped on two rebel-held districts yesterday afternoon, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. A child and a woman were among the dead, the Observatory said.

Yesterday’s attacks are part of a weeks-long campaign by Mr Assad’s forces to regain control of Aleppo, parts of which were seized by rebels in mid-2012.

More than 130,000 people have been killed during the protests and civil war, according to activists. Millions have fled their homes, often seeking shelter in neighbouring countries.

 

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