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UN Welcomes Humanitarian Agreement for Syrian City

The United Nations is welcoming reports from Syria that there is an agreement on a plan to allow civilians to leave some areas of the besieged city of Homs.

A U.N. spokesman says Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos has welcomed word of a "humanitarian pause" that would allow civilians to leave the old city of Homs and allow relief workers to deliver aid for about 2,500 people.

The spokesman said Thursday the U.N. and its humanitarian partners have pre-positioned food, medicine and other supplies nearby and are ready to deliver the aid as soon as they receive an assurance of safe passage.

The U.N. spokesman could not confirm the agreement, which was announced earlier Thursday in Syrian state media reports. The spokesman told VOA that discussions on a deal had been ongoing.

The old city of Homs has been cut off from humanitarian aid for more than a year.

The country's SANA news agency says the government and the U.N. have reached an agreement that will allow some residents to leave the old city.

The news agency says the deal covers "innocent civilians" -- including women, children, the elderly and injured people. The status of men was not immediately clear.

More than 130,000 people have been killed and 9.5 million displaced since Syria's civil war broke out in 2011.

Syrian government and opposition delegates discussed the status of civilians in Homs during recent peace talks in Geneva.

In another development, the U.N. has urged the Syrian government to speed up its removal of chemical agents from the country for destruction.

In a Thursday statement, the U.N. Security Council called on Syria to "expedite actions to meet its obligation" to transport and remove "relevant chemicals."

The council's statement followed a closed-door briefing with Sigrid Kaag, the international special coordinator overseeing the removal and destruction of Syria's chemical weapons.

Kaag told reporters that while Syria had missed some deadlines, the overall goals of the mission could still be met.

"The deadline of the 30th of June, 2014, we have stated and has been reiterated by the secretary general, can be met. That is the important one. Intermediate milestones ideally should have been met. They have not been met. There are delays. What we are now doing is to ensure that a plan will be available against which further benchmarking can take place that allows for planning, preparation, swift implementation."

However, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power said the Syrian government needed to immediately fulfill its obligations under the chemical weapons convention and U.N. Security Council guidelines.

"We know the regime has the ability to move these weapons and materials because they have moved them multiple times over the course of this conflict. It is time for the Assad government to stop its foot-dragging, establish a transportation plan and stick to it."

Syria has made two shipments of chemical weapons materials, removing about five percent of its stockpile.

Kaag said the percentage of what is removed and destroyed continues to grow.

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