The Syrian regime has agreed to let women and children leave a besieged district of Homs, UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi announced on Sunday after delegations from the Syrian government and opposition met for direct talks in Geneva.
“What we have been told by the government side is that women and children in the besieged area of the old city are welcome to leave immediately,” Brahimi told a news conference.
The deal marked the first tangible — if limited — sign of progress in the talks.
Brahimi acknowledged that the agreement on the city of Homs fell short of his hope to send a humanitarian aid convoy. But, he said, “to bring Syria out of the ditch in which it has fallen will take time.”
Homs, one of the first cities to rise against President Bashar al-Assad, once more came under mortar attacks from the government.
Brahimi defended the pace of the talks, which have yet to touch upon the issue of Assad’s future.
“I think being too slow is a better way than going too fast,” he said.
Brahimi said the thorniest topic — a possible transitional government — will not come up until at least Monday.
“I think this belittles the importance of this conference and the goal that was drawn for it,” said Bouthaina Shaaban, an adviser to Assad.
Three years of bloodshed
The Western-backed opposition, made up largely of exiled Syrians, says Assad has lost legitimacy and can no longer lead a country after unleashing the military on largely peaceful protests nearly three years ago.
The government says the rebellion is rife with terrorists and that Assad is the only person able to end the fighting that has killed more than 130,000 people since the conflict started in 2011.
In the meantime, the homegrown rebellion has become a regional proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, with foreign fighters flooding in on both sides.
Neighborhoods in Hom’s old city have been ravaged following repeated government assaults to reclaim control from rebels.
The city had a pre-war population of 1 million, but most residents have since fled.
Activists say about 800 families are trapped, without regular access to food, medicine and basic necessities.
“The regime is blocking all convoys to Homs and has been doing so for months,” said a senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the talks remain sensitive. “The situation in Homs is extremely urgent. Anything the government says to the contrary is false.”
Monzer Akbik, an opposition spokesman, said the coalition was still determined to stay for the political talks set to begin Monday. He accused the government of using “stalling techniques.”
Syrian activists, including the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said some rebel-held districts in Homs came under attack Sunday morning by mortars fired by Syrian government forces.
Heavy fighting also continued Sunday in the Qadam neighborhood on the southern fringe of Damascus, where at least 35 rebels and government troops were killed the previous day, said Rami Abdurrahman, the Observatory’s director.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-01-26