Syria Begins Evacuations of Homs, Thousands Need Aid

syriaUnder intense international pressure Syria began to evacuate citizens from the razed city of Homs today. The citizens have been under government siege for over a year now and so far at least 83 people have been evacuated. A good sign that Syria is ready to try to end the bloody civil war that has gripped the country for more than two years.

Buses are taking the evacuees to a point outside the city of Homs where aid workers are waiting to give them any help they need especially food since many are malnourished according to the World Food Program. Many of the besieged citizens have been living off of things like grass and leaves or whatever else they could find. Soldiers and police are present at the checkpoint as well to keep the peace.

As Syria begins the evacuation of Homs today, the goverment also announced that it will participate in the next round of peace talks in Geneva. Syria hopes to have at least 200 civilians evacuated by the end of today, a number that the United Nations is happy with at the moment.  The buses are being allowed in to the city following an agreed three-day cease-fire between the Syrian government and the rebels.

Syria’s official news agency, SANA, reported earlier that 58 people, mostly women, children and senior citizens, had left the crumbling Old City area of Homs by mid-day.  Syrian state television showed images of the frail evacuees being loaded onto the buses by members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent group; they also showed images of the UN and World Food Program giving aid.

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The city of Homs in ruin.

The United Nations has confirmed that 83 people have been evacuated from the city and are being taken to “places of their choice” by the UN and Red Crescent members.  The governor of the city, Talal al-Barazi, was also quoted by SANA confirming the goal of 200 evacuees by the end of the day and that it was he who had reached the agreement with the UN for aid support to be delivered to those who chose to remain in the city.

However, it is unclear when that aid will be delivered to the 2,500 civilians still trapped in the decimated city along with the unknown number of rebels. Yacoub El Hillo, the UN official in charge of the operation, said the evacuation will continue over the coming days and that he expected aid delivery to begin on Saturday.

A witness still in the city told the NY Times that he witnessed an elderly man get shot in the stomach by a sniper while trying to board a bus and had to be stabilized before being evacuated, a troubling sign that not all are happy about the evacuation.

It was first reported on Thursday by the UN that an agreement had been reached to finally provided humanitarian aid to the strained citizens of Homs.  Albeit, the rebels remain skeptical about the Assad regimes true motivations for allowing it. The Syrian government is planning on arming insurgents inside the city after the civilians that want to leave are evacuated. Diplomats from the west speculate that between 500 and 700 civilians want evacuation.

Despite Syria beginning the evacuation of the city of Homs the situation remains very tense. The fighting between the Assad regime and the exiled rebels continues in a civil war that as already cost over 100,000 Syrians their life.

By Adam Stier

Sources:
 Reuters
NY Times
BBC News

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