CAIRO — The governor of Syria's war-battered city of Homs says that more than 600 people were evacuated Sunday from rebel-held parts of the city.
U.N. and Syrian Red Crescent workers rescued the large group on the third day of a cease-fire between rebels and government forces. Even so, eyewitness accounts say a number of women and children trying to leave the city were killed and wounded after being hit by mortar shells.
Homs Governor Talal Barazi and Red Crescent officials said they were attempting to extend the rescue effort beyond the three-day period that had been negotiated by the United Nations. The United Nations says 2,500 people have been stranded by the military siege in Homs since mid-2012.
Barazi said an aid shipment reached Homs, despite reports the road into the old city was mined. He added sniper fire also hindered the operation.
A U.N. and Syrian Red Crescent aid convoy of armored four-wheel drive vehicles reportedly came under fire for a second day Sunday, after entering Homs to deliver relief supplies.
U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos said she was disappointed by reports aid workers were deliberately targeted. She called it a stark reminder of the dangers civilians and aid workers face each day in Syria.
U.N. convoy commander Yacoub Helou told journalists any violence will prevent aid from entering the city for a long time.
He pointed out that several rockets came close to causing a disaster (Saturday) and while he can not say who was responsible, anyone who uses arms is trying to harm children, the poor and the old.
Middle East analyst Nadim Shehadi of Chatham House in London tells VOA that U.N. officials are required to work with the Assad government, since it is a U.N. member and continues to officially represent the country.
Shehadi argues that Damascus appears to be using the aid issue to force the international community to deal with it directly, conferring further legitimacy on the Assad government.
“"The U.N. has no choice, because it can only deal with official channels, and since the regime is still part of the U.N., they have to coordinate with it and support," Shehadi said. "The Syria regime is holding its own population hostage and starving them until we engage with them, basically.”
A crowd of men worked Sunday to dig survivors from the rubble after Syrian government bombing caused a residential building to collapse in the nearby city of Hama. Dozens of government soldiers were also killed in Hama after a suicide bomber on a motorcycle blew himself up near a Syrian Army checkpoint.
The Syrian government and the opposition blame each other for breaking the cease-fire, which was intended to let in aid and allow civilians to leave.
A year-long blockade of Homs by Syrian government forces has created severe food shortages.
On Saturday, opposition activists said Syrian government forces renewed their assault on the northern city of Aleppo.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least 15 people were killed when government forces dropped crude explosives called barrel bombs on the city.
The next round of peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition is due to open Monday.
The talks, organized by the United States and Russia, have made little progress so far in ending Syria's civil war. More than 130,000 people have been killed and 9 million forced from their homes since the conflict began in 2011.