Civilians evacuated from besieged Syria’s HomsAgence France-Presse . Homs
More than a dozen civilians were evacuated from besieged rebel-held areas of Homs on Friday under a UN-supervised deal between the Syrian government and opposition.
Some 12 civilians came out on the first evacuation bus, among nearly 200 expected to be brought out during the day amid a heavy troop presence, an AFP correspondent said.
State television reported that two busloads left Homs with a total of 35 people on board, mostly them women, children and the elderly.
Footage broadcast on state television and other networks showed elderly and apparently frail men wrapped in blankets being helped into a bus by Red Crescent volunteers.
Other pictures showed a woman seen lying on a stretcher inside an ambulance as a Red Crescent man carries an wheelchair aboard a bus.
Staff from the UN World Food Programme in blue vests also can be seen, as well as a vehicle marked with the logo of the UN refugee agency the UNHCR.
State television also showed a bus leaving a meeting point just outside one of the besieged areas amid tight security.
Most of those on the first bus out were elderly, an activist inside the rebel enclave, who gave his name only as Ghaith, said via the Internet.
State television said the civilians had been held as ‘human shields’ by ‘terrorist groups’ — the term authorities use to describe rebels fighting to topple the government of the president, Bashar al-Assad.
The evacuation is part of a surprise deal brokered by the United Nations between the warring sides on Thursday after months of negotiations that will also see desperately needed aid delivered to the rebel enclave during a ‘humanitarian pause’ in fighting.
But the first consignment of food and medicines will not reach the hundreds of civilians who have been under army blockade for more than 600 days before Saturday, Homs governor Talal Barazi said.
‘According to the information received from the UN, around 200 people are ready to be evacuated today,’ he said, adding that those allowed to leave are children under 15, men over 55 and women.
He called the operation a ‘success’, despite initial ‘difficulties’ for civilians trying to get out of the Old City of Homs.
‘But thanks be to God they were able to leave.’
The Syrian government had left open whether it would even attend a second round of peace talks due to open on Monday, but deputy foreign minister Faisal Muqdad finally confirmed Friday that Damascus would take part.
‘It has been decided that the delegation of the Syrian republic will take part in the second round of negotiations in Geneva,’ state news agency SANA quoted him as saying.
‘The Syrian delegation wishes to pursue the efforts it deployed during the first round in Geneva, and insists that the discussions focus on all clauses in the Geneva I communique, beginning with the first clause.’
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