Aid workers defy gunfire to evacuate civilians from Syrian city of Homs
Operation comes a day after shelling and gunfire hit an aid convoy in besieged city
Syrian aid workers evacuated more civilians from the embattled city of Homs yesterday despite continued gunfire, state media said, a day after convoys were halted when trucks carrying food and medical supplies came under fire.
State news agency Sana said 65 people were evacuated yesterday after the Syrian Red Crescent returned to the central city, under a UN-brokered truce allowing some people to leave and food supplies to enter.
State television said gunfire echoed around rebel-held areas in the city centre as aid workers helped women, children and elderly men leave after being trapped for more than 600 days.
Yesterday's evacuation was the second in three days, since the truce for army-besieged districts of Homs was to have come into effect on Friday. But on Saturday, shelling and gunfire hit a Syrian Red Crescent aid convoy, killing five residents of the rebel-held neighbourhoods and wounding 20 others.
President Bashar al-Assad's authorities and rebel fighters have traded accusations of responsibility for attacks which stranded a joint UN/Syrian Red Crescent team in central Old Homs for several hours after dark on Saturday.
The convoy was targeted just as relief workers were handing over food and medical supplies. The Red Crescent said one of its drivers was slightly wounded but the rest of the team eventually left central Homs safely.
Video footage released by activists showed the joint team, led by UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Syria Yacoub el Hillo, taking refuge on Saturday in a basement while explosions rocked the rubble-strewn streets above them.
In another video filmed inside Homs on Saturday, Hillo said the aid supplies, including food parcels, medicines and hygiene kits, were just a drop in the ocean when set against the conditions endured by people trapped for a year and a half.
"When I look around me and see the level of need, and suffering of all - especially the children, the women and the elderly - let me say that even though it's a significant amount of medical and nutritional aid, it's still just a drop," he said. "But let's start with this drop."
The conflict has killed 130,000 people, driven millions from their homes and devastated whole districts of Syrian cities, and particularly Homs, a centre of protest when the 2011 uprising against 40 years of Assad family rule first erupted.
At the Geneva peace talks, which resume today, international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi has been pushing for agreement on aid deliveries and prisoner releases, hoping that progress on those issues could build momentum to address the far more contentious question of political transition.
Additional reporting by Reuters