Syria conflict: Aid and evacuations continue in Homs

More than 1,000 civilians have been evacuated from Homs so far, as Lyse Doucet reports

The UN-backed evacuation of civilians and delivery of aid has continued at the besieged rebel-held Old City of Homs.

More than 200 civilians left, joining hundreds allowed out since the truce was agreed on Friday.

But concerns remain over the fate of men of military age who face questioning by the Syrian authorities.

Meanwhile, talks between the warring sides have continued in Geneva, with no sign of any breakthrough.

An abandoned ballroom on the edge of Homs is being used to care for evacuees, Lyse Doucet says

In other developments:

  • Syrian government forces and their Lebanese Shia ally Hezbollah have stepped up an assault on the strategic opposition-held town of Yabroud, near the Lebanese border, with at least 13 air strikes reported. Lebanese officials told the BBC dozens of families were streaming over the border in anticipation of a major assault
  • Syrian government and opposition delegations are holding a third day of talks in Geneva
  • A man thought to be the first Briton to have carried out a suicide bombing in Syria is named as Abdul Waheed Majid

Meanwhile sharp words have been exchanged by Washington and Moscow after Russia again objected to a draft UN Security Council resolution - this time, one that would call on all sides to allow aid workers access across Syria.

That was criticised by US President Barack Obama, who called Russia a "holdout" and suggested that by blocking the resolution it too was responsible for "starving civilians", along with Syria.

A Russian foreign ministry spokesman dismissed the criticism as a "biased distortion", highlighting Russia's role in helping achieve the ceasefire in Homs and insisting Russia was as concerned about the humanitarian situation in Syria as Washington.

But the BBC's Nick Bryant at the UN in New York says that although Russia has rejected this present draft, it has not slammed the door on an alternative resolution.

'Weeding out terrorists'

Government troops have besieged Homs for 18 months.

The "humanitarian pause" in the Old City of Homs is a rare glimmer of light in a dark and devastating war. 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 through.

The UN's resident humanitarian co-ordinator, Yacoub El Hillo, told me they were "baby steps" that, he hoped, could lead to the "giant steps" that were needed.

But a rare truce also meant to build trust is exposing deep enmities. The longer the mission goes on, the more sensitive it becomes.

Some pro-government forces are vehemently opposed to an operation that is allowing fighters to escape an area that has been the focus of heavy fighting for nearly two years. And the opposition is angry that young men who leave are being taken in for questioning.

More than 100 have been released, but more than 200 are still being held. In Syria's brutal conflict, even humanitarian pauses cannot escape the cruel logic of war.

Evacuations over the weekend were facilitated by a three-day truce, which was then extended until Wednesday, though the relief operation was halted by a day on Tuesday due to logistical reasons.

Nearly 200 parcels containing flour, rice, vegetable oil and other foodstuffs were delivered on Wednesday.

The UN's local humanitarian co-ordinator, Yacoub El Hillo, and Homs Governor Talal Barazi said more than 200 civilians had been taken out of Homs in Wednesday's operation.

But hundreds of civilians remain trapped inside the Old City.

Mr Barazi said an extension to the current ceasefire, due to end late on Wednesday, could be agreed.

UN agencies have also expressed concern over the fate of dozens of men who were taken in by Syrian security personnel after they fled Homs.

Mr Barazi said 111 men had been questioned and released, while 190 others were still being held.

"I just want to say I hope that that the bigger percentage will all be released," he told the BBC.

"They are living in a shelter in very good conditions."

The Syrian authorities said the screening was necessary to weed out "terrorists".

Syrian Arab Red Crescent workers offload aid from a lorry as Syrians evacuated from rebel-controlled districts that were besieged by the army, arrive at a government-ruled area, in the central Syrian city of Homs, on Wednesday The UN delivered more food parcels to Homs - where residents have endured months with little food, some resorting to eating grass and shrubs
Syrian civilians disembark a bus after they were evacuated from rebel-controlled districts that were besieged by the army in the central Syrian city of Homs on Wednesday More than 200 people were evacuated on Wednesday
Civilians gathered near Syrian Arab Red Crescent and United Nations vehicles wait to be evacuated from a besieged area of Homs on Wednesday But hundreds more remain inside Homs - some gathered here and hoping to join those being evacuated
A Syrian man with his wife and child ride a motorcycle as they flee from Yabroud, the last rebel stronghold in Syria's mountainous Qalamoun region, on their way to the Lebanese-Syrian border town of Arssal, in eastern Lebanon, on Wednesday Despite the truce in Homs, the bombs continue to fall elsewhere - here, a family flees the rebel stronghold of Yabroud as it comes under attack from the combined forces of the regime and Hezbollah

In Geneva, Syrian government and opposition negotiators met face-to-face again on Wednesday.

The opposition proposed a transitional governing body (TGB) be set up to oversee a UN-monitored ceasefire across Syria and steer it out of the nearly three-year war.

It would expel all foreign fighters, allow full humanitarian access and achieve a political solution to the war.

But regime representatives refused to discuss the plan, saying it was broaching political questions prematurely, reported AFP news agency.

UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has lamented a lack of progress in the talks - bringing forward a meeting with Russian and US officials by one day to Thursday in an apparent attempt to get them to apply pressure to the opposed Syrian sides.

The first round of talks ended last month with no firm agreements and both sides trading insults.

Meanwhile, the bloodshed continues inside Syria, with the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights saying Syrians are being killed at a faster rate than ever.

The British-based group, which has links to the opposition, said at least 4,959 people had died in the three-week period since 22 January, when the first round of Swiss talks began.

The opposition wants the government to commit in writing to the 2012 Geneva Communique, which called for the formation of a transitional administration with full executive authority.

President Bashar al-Assad's government has ruled out any transfer of power.

The civil conflict has claimed more than 100,000 lives and has driven 9.5 million people from their homes.

Homs map

More on This Story

Syria conflict

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Middle East stories

RSS

Features & Analysis

  • Cerro RicoSatanic mines

    Devil worship in the tunnels of the man-eating mountain


  • Nefertiti MenoeWar of words

    The woman who sparked a row over 'speaking white'


  • Oil pumpPump change

    What would ending the US oil export ban do to petrol prices?


  • Brazilian Scene, Ceara, in 1893Sir Snapshot

    19th Century Brazil seen through the eyes of an Englishman


Elsewhere on the BBC

  • SailingGame on

    BBC Capital discovers why certain sports seem to have a special appeal for those with deep pockets

Programmes

  • Prof Piot, the first person to indentify Ebola virusHARDtalk Watch

    Ebola expert warns travellers could spread the disease further if it is not contained

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.