First civilians evacuated from rebel-held areas of Syria's Homs

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 February, 2014, 11:09pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 February, 2014, 5:24am

The first trapped civilians were evacuated from rebel-held areas of Syria's Homs yesterday as Damascus confirmed it would join a round of peace talks next week.

State television and other networks showed footage of Red Crescent volunteers assisting frail-looking old men wrapped in blankets inside a bus, as a woman lying on a stretcher awaited her turn.

Syria's third city, dubbed "the capital of the revolution" by rebels, has been a flashpoint since early in the almost three-year-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.

A state broadcaster said that by the afternoon three busloads had left Homs with 60 civilians on board. Most of the evacuated were women and children.

Homs governor Talal Barazi said as many as 200 civilians were "ready to be evacuated".

The evacuation is part of a deal brokered by the UN between the two sides after months of negotiations that will see aid delivered during a "humanitarian pause" in fighting.

Barazi said the first consignment of food and medicines would not arrive until today.

Activist Yazan, speaking over the internet, said those leaving had "mixed feelings" - happy to escape but worried they might be "detained by the regime".

The plight of the trapped civilians was on the agenda of peace talks between the government and the opposition in Switzerland last month. The meeting ended without agreement on access for relief supplies.

Yesterday, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad confirmed that a government delegation would go to Geneva for the second round of talks that was due to start on Monday.