Peace talks continue Monday between the Syrian government and opposing rebel groups. The U.N.-Arab League envoy will mediate the meetings between opposing groups and hopefully make advancements in aiding those in the blighted city. Many describe the overall progress as slow, resulting in minor advances in helping civilians in Homs.
This past Sunday made headway as 600 Syrians were rescued after over a year of being held captive in the city with very little food and water. Some were wounded and killed by gunshots and mortar shells as they ran to U.N. vehicles. The Syrian government has confirmed that of the 600 evacuated from Homs, 103 have been detained for questioning. They have since claimed that they have been released, but there are reports that this is not true.
The U.N. worked together with Syrian Red Crescent to rescue mainly women, children and elderly men who had only small bags of possessions with them as they ran to safety. During the occupation, the U.N. reports that they were able to drop off 60 parcels of food and a ton of flour in the old quarter, which is severely needed as the Syrian Observatory believes roughly 80 civilians have died as a result of food and medical shortages. Those rescued appear very malnourished to relief workers that have come in contact with them, with one U.N. worker described the children as “emaciated with sunken eyes.”
The evacuation happened on the last day of a three-day truce resulting from peace talks in which a ceasefire was implemented but was often disregarded. Neither the Syria rebel forces nor Assad’s authorities took responsibility for the attacks which left the U.N. and Red Crescent relief teams stranded in Homs on Saturday as they were distributing food and medical supplies.
Three activists also reported that as a group of residents waited at an evacuation point in a rebel-occupied area in Homs, al-Qarabis, they were subjected to gunfire, which wounded dozens in the group. During the ceasefire, there were many instances when rebel and government forces opened fire, injuring and killing innocent people but both groups placed blame on the other.
For the reported 2,500 people still inside Homs, the number of food and medical supplies are only minuscule compared to the amount needed. Yacoub el Hillo, a humanitarian coordinator in Syria, said, “When I look around me and see the level of need, and suffering of all – especially the children, the women and the elderly – let me say that even though it’s a significant amount of medical and nutritional aid, it’s still just a drop.” He added, “But let’s start with this drop.”
Conflict has been rampant in Homs as it was dubbed “The Capital of the Revolution” by rebels for essentially being the base where many anti-Assad protests began. The government has made many attacks on Homs, and now various areas of the city are being held by either the Syria government or rebel forces that are in constant battle to overthrow the other. Parts of the city occupied by rebels have been blockaded by Assad supporters, making safe exit and entry near impossible for relief workers without mediation or agreement. Even then, it is still unsafe as one can never trust ceasefire agreements to be upheld by all parties, just as the 600 civilians experienced on Sunday.
Since 2011, when the Syria conflicts began, there have been a reported 100,000 casualties. The Syrians that have managed to survive are often living in horrible conditions, risking their lives in attempts to escape. An estimated 9.5 million have also been driven from their homes, making the situation a humanitarian crisis. As the peace talks continue following the rescue of 600 civilians from Homs, hopefully negotiations will end in an agreement that will allow the U.N. and Syrian Red Crescent to further help the people left in Homs.
By Lian Morrison