Syria: Aid workers resume evacuations from Homs
By BARBARA SURK | Associated Press | Published: February 9, 2014
BEIRUT — Syrian aid workers evacuated more civilians from the embattled city of Homs on Sunday despite continued gunfire, state media said, a day after convoys were halted when trucks carrying food and medical supplies came under fire.
In the north, government aircraft dropped barrel bombs on two rebel-held districts of Aleppo, killing at least 11 people, activists said.
State news agency SANA said 65 people were evacuated Sunday after the Syrian Red Crescent returned to the central city, under a U.N.-brokered truce allowing some people to leave and food supplies to enter.
State TV said gunfire echoed around rebel-held areas in the city center as aid workers helped women, children and elderly men leave.
Britain-based opposition group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said explosions and gunfire near the evacuation caused casualties, although it did not immediately give a breakdown.
Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar Assad have prevented the entry of food and medical aid into rebel-held parts of Homs for over a year, badly affecting hundreds of civilians holed up in the areas.
Khaled Erksoussi, the head of operations at the SRC told The Associated Press that the agency will try to evacuate as many civilians as possible from rebel-held areas in Homs before the truce expires Monday.
Erksoussi said 83 children, women and elderly people on wheelchairs were evacuated on Friday when the truce went into effect. It was broken a day later, leaving an aid worker wounded and two trucks damaged, Erksoussi said via telephone from Damascus.
It was not clear who fired at the convoy Saturday. 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 attack on the aid convoy jeopardized a rare cease-fire in Syria's nearly 3-year-old conflict hours before the resumption of peace talks in Geneva.
U.N. 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.
There was no tangible progress however, as the Syrian government accused the opposition of capitalizing on human suffering in Homs to score points with the international community.
A second round of talks is set to start on Monday.
Homs city was one of the first areas to rise up against Assad in 2011 and has been particularly hard hit by the war. Over the past year, the government has regained control over much of the city, except for a few neighborhoods in the historic center.
Meanwhile in the northern city of Aleppo, makeshift barrel bombs were dropped on two rebel-held districts on Sunday afternoon, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. A child and a woman were among the dead, the Observatory said.
Sunday's attacks are part of a weekslong campaign by Assad's forces to wrest control of Aleppo, parts of which were seized by rebels in mid-2012.
Barrel bombs are containers that have been packed with hundreds of kilograms (pounds) of explosives. They are loaded onto Syrian military helicopters and pushed out of the rear door.
The Syrian uprising began with largely peaceful protests but gradually evolved into a civil war with sectarian overtones pitting predominant Sunni Muslim rebels against Assad's government that is dominated by Alawites, an offshoot group of Shiite Islam.
More than 130,000 people have been killed, according to activists. Millions have been forced out of their homes, seeking shelter in neighboring countries or in safer parts of their homeland.