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UN to Continue Humanitarian Pause in Homs

  • Margaret Besheer

Syrian Arab Red Crescent members in red uniforms help evacuate injured man on a bus out of the battleground city of Homs. This photo was released by the official Syrian news agency.

Syrian Arab Red Crescent members in red uniforms help evacuate injured man on a bus out of the battleground city of Homs. This photo was released by the official Syrian news agency.

The United Nations says the Syrian government and opposition have agreed to extend a humanitarian pause in the beleaguered city of Homs for another three days

U.N. Humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said in a statement she hopes the additional three-days will allow for the evacuation of more civilians and the delivery of additional urgently needed supplies.

The reprieve comes as the government and opposition resumed peace talks in Geneva.

Since Friday, humanitarian teams working with the local authorities, representatives of all sides and community leaders have evacuated more than 800 women, children, sick and elderly people from Homs and brought in food and medical supplies.

The United Nations said the besieged town has had little aid for nearly two years.

Aid workers under fire

The clearly-marked aid convoy came under gunfire and mortar shells were fired near it. One driver was wounded. Amos said it was “absolutely unacceptable” that U.N. and Syrian Arab Red Crescent workers were deliberately targeted.

She also condemned the deaths of 11 people during aid operations because, she said, the parties did not abide by the cease-fire.

Asked whether male residents of Homs were among those evacuated, U.N. Spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters a number of people who did not fit into the immediate category for evacuation are being looked after by U.N. protection staff to ensure they do not come to any harm.

“Clearly, we take this very seriously," he said "If we are evacuating people we have a responsibility for all those who are being evacuated.”

Nesirky said the U.N. hopes the additional three-day pause might allow for the evacuation of a group of people in the city’s field hospital.

“And that would certainly include trying to help somewhere in the region of 30 people in what passes for a hospital inside Old Homs city, and they are in bad shape and need to be evacuated as soon as possible,” he said.

Deaths in Syria from civil war, as of February 10, 2014

Deaths in Syria from civil war, as of February 10, 2014

The U.N. Security Council has been discussing a possible resolution demanding better humanitarian access. On Thursday, Britain’s ambassador said it is still under discussion, but he expected it to be moving forward shortly. Russia’s envoy has said his government is against the idea.

Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Monday that France is preparing a new draft U.N. Security Council resolution to help speed food and medicine to those in besieged areas.

Talks continue

Louay Safi, spokesperson for the Syrian National Coalition, addresses the media after a meeting at the Geneva Conference on Syria, at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, Feb. 10, 2014.

Louay Safi, spokesperson for the Syrian National Coalition, addresses the media after a meeting at the Geneva Conference on Syria, at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, Feb. 10, 2014.

In Geneva, the government and opposition delegations resumed discussions after a week’s break in the talks, which are aimed at ending nearly three years of violence.

The United Nations said the mediator, Lakhdar Brahimi, met first with the opposition delegation and later with the government delegation.

Discussions centered on questions relating to the cessation of violence and terrorism and the establishment of a transitional governing body in accordance with the Geneva Communique of June 30, 2012.

Syrian opposition spokesman Monzer Akbik said during Monday's meeting with Brahimi, his side laid out their vision of a transitional government in Syria.

"We submitted also another paper talking about our vision to the political solution by transition to a transitional governing body, this is what Geneva communique says and the vision shows that a transitional governing body should be able, with the full authority, in a neutral environment, should be able to end the violence and take the country towards reconciliation and democracy," Akbik said.

A spokesman for Syria's opposition National Coalition, Louay al-Safi, also denounced what he said were the government's use of "barrel bombs," which the opposition says were responsible for the deaths of more than 1,800 people last week.

"It is not acceptable that the regime would send its own delegation to talk peace while it is killing our people in Syria," he said. "This must stop, we ask the international community to do something about it. "

Monday's talks follow an initial round last month that ended with little progress, but one that Brahimi called "a modest beginning" to build on.

Following the meeting with opposition delegates, Brahimi met with the Syrian government delegation but no afternoon talks were expected.

Also Monday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Islamist fighters killed at least 40 people Sunday in an attack on an Alawite village. The monitoring group said the attack happened in Hama province, and that the dead included at least 20 civilians.

More than 130,000 people have been killed and 9 million forced from their homes since the conflict began in 2011.

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