Saturday, 8 February 2014

Syria crisis: Homs awaits food and medicine deliveries


"Food and water is so short inside... Look at me I am just bones"

The UN and aid agencies are hoping to deliver food and medicine to civilians trapped in the Syrian city of Homs.
The aid convoys are due to enter on Saturday on the second day of a three-day ceasefire in Homs between government forces and rebels.
On Friday more than 80 people were evacuated from rebel-held areas which have been under siege for 18 months.
Many of the evacuees looked frail and exhausted - some said they had not eaten bread for five months.
Large areas of Homs - Syria's third largest city dubbed "the capital of the revolution" against President Bashar al-Assad - have been reduced to rubble by fighting between rebels and government forces.
Many neighbourhoods lie in ruins and activists say people have survived on little more than olives for weeks. Up to 3,000 civilians are thought to be trapped in the city.
The situation in besieged districts of the city since June 2012 was discussed during peace talks in Geneva a week ago.
Another round of talks is scheduled to begin on 10 February and the Syrian government has confirmed it will attend.
'A milestone'
The UN's humanitarian co-ordinator in Syria, Yacoub El Hillo, said UN teams "have pre-positioned food, medical and other basic supplies for immediate delivery as soon as the first group of civilians are out and we hope to send this aid on Saturday morning".
A damaged building is seen in the besieged area of Homs Large areas of Homs have been reduced to rubble with food and medicine in perilously short supply
Syrian Arab Red Crescent members in red uniforms provide food and drink to a man before he gets on a bus to be evacuated from Homs One of the main priorities is to get food to people who in some cases have not eaten bread for months
Elderly people being evacuated from Homs (7 February 2014) Most of those evacuated on Friday were elderly
He said that achieving the evacuation of civilians and the delivery of food was a "milestone" for which all parties should be commended.
The UN said 83 civilians were evacuated on Friday, after the government and rebel fighters agreed to observe a "humanitarian pause" in fighting.
In New York, UN spokesman Farhan Haq said that while there were isolated reports of gunfire, the operation had gone smoothly and the hope now was that more civilians would be evacuated and more aid delivered over the next few days.
A bus transports residents from a besieged area of Homs to the area under government control (February 7, 2014) A temporary truce allowed buses to go in to the besieged area of the Old City
Civilians carry their belongings as they walk towards a meeting point to be evacuated from a besieged area of Homs (7 February 2014) People who left said many were left behind who needed help
"The people who were able to leave were women, children and the elderly," Mr Haq said.
"They were then delivered to the places of their choice escorted by UN and Syrian Red Crescent staff."
Red Crescent volunteers were seen helping a frail-looking old men wrapped in blankets on to a bus, while a woman on a stretcher awaited her turn.
BBC Arabic's Assaf Abboud in Homs says the evacuated people were given meals and drinks and were taken for medical checks.
They told journalists that there were more people trapped in the city who wanted to leave.
An amateur video filmed by activists showed one man smiling as he embraced his son, their first reunion for more than 18 months.
Daily bombardments
The evacuations are expected to resume on Sunday, local cleric Abdul Hareth al-Khalidi told the AFP news agency.
Destroyed home in Homs. 1 Feb 2014 Many families in Homs have lost everything in the fighting
Homs has been a key battleground in the uprising against President Assad.
The army launched a series of big attacks to recapture rebel areas in the Old City in the beginning of 2012, with almost daily bombardments killing thousands.
President Assad's forces enforced a blockade in June 2012 after recapturing most of the city, driving the rebels into a small enclave in the city's centre.
Homs governor Talal Barazi described the atmosphere as "positive" ahead of the planned evacuation, which had run slightly behind schedule because of logistical hitches.
The Syrian foreign ministry said that under the deal - reached between the governor of Homs and the UN resident co-ordinator in Syria - "innocent civilians" would be allowed out of besieged areas.
"We are very happy that finally we found the possibility to bring out these people and to provide those who are needy inside Old Homs with humanitarian aid they deserve," Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said on Friday.
"The only precondition is that this aid and the help should not go to terrorists or armed groups."
The UN says more than 100,000 people have died since the uprising began.
BBC

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