UN’s ‘humanitarian pause’ in Homs to be extended

Neighbourhoods in the city of Homs have been under siege for many months. Picture: Getty
Neighbourhoods in the city of Homs have been under siege for many months. Picture: Getty
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The UN humanitarian chief welcomed news the Syrian government and opposition have agreed to a three-day extension of “the humanitarian pause” in besieged neighbourhoods in Homs.

Valerie Amos said the move will hopefully allow the evacuation of more civilians and delivery of much-needed additional aid.

She said in a statement that since 7 February, humanitarian teams working with local authorities and representatives of all sides “in extremely dangerous circumstances” have evacuated more than 800 people from the old part of Homs and brought food and medical supplies to people who have had little aid for nearly two years.

Ms Amos said “it is absolutely unacceptable” that 11 people lost their lives needlessly because the parties did not maintain their ceasefire during the initial three-day pause.

A Syrian Red Crescent official said around 300 more people had to be evacuated yesterday from besieged rebel-held neighbourhoods of Syria’s third-largest city, Homs. Khaled Erksoussi, the Red Crescent’s head of operations, said the group was notified that a ceasefire in Homs that ended Sunday has been extended “for a few days.”

The day’s evacuations brought to around 1,000 the number of people brought out of the city since Friday, when the truce began.

The evacuations took place amid mortar fire and shooting, which both sides blamed on each other. Activists say several people were killed.

Government forces have been besieging the rebel-held districts in the city for months, cutting off supplies. The truce to let in aid and let out women, children and elderly was brokered by the United Nations.

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said France and other countries would present a resolution at the UN calling for greater access for humanitarian aid.

“We are asking for stronger action as far as the humanitarian side is concerned, that medicines and food supplies are handed out in cities,” he said.

“It is absolutely scandalous that there have been discussions for quite a while and that people are still being starved every day, and so along with a number of other countries we will present a resolution at the UN along those lines.”

But China and Russia did not turn up to preliminary discussions on the draft. Russian diplomats had already dismissed the idea of a so-called humanitarian resolution.

The Syrian government has acknowledged that some of those evacuated from Homs on Sunday were detained after they left.

A Syrian information ministry spokesman said that 103 “militants” had been detained for security checks, but had since been released.

Although the situation in Homs was discussed during the first round of talks in Geneva, the truce was agreed between Homs governor Talal Barazi and the UN resident co-ordinator in Syria.