December 18, 2014
Syria: Six hundred evacuees out of Old Homs
Six hundred people have left the besieged ruins of rebel-held central Homs, a local official said, escaping more than a year of hunger and deprivation caused by one of the most protracted blockades of Syria's devastating conflict.
The evacuees, mainly women, children and old men, were brought out by the United Nations and Syrian Red Crescent on the third day of an operation during which the aid convoys came under fire and were briefly trapped themselves in Old Homs.
"The last vehicle has arrived and the total is 611 people," Homs governor Talal al-Barazi told regional Arab television channel Al Mayadeen at a meeting point for evacuees outside the city, adding that more aid was also sent into the rebel area.
Barazi and Red Crescent officials said they were working to extend the operation beyond today, the final day of a fragile and frequently violated three-day ceasefire in the city.
Some of those who came out were men of fighting age who were not originally eligible to leave, Barazi said, but they had agreed to hand themselves over to police and judicial authorities and could win their freedom through amnesty.
Authorities suspect all men of fighting age to be part of rebel forces fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
Assad's authorities and rebel fighters have traded accusations of responsibility for attacks which stranded a joint United Nations and Syrian Red Crescent team in central Old Homs for several hours after dark yesterday.
The convoy was targeted as the relief workers were handing over food and medical supplies in the district where the United Nations says 2,500 people had been stranded by an ever-tightening military siege since the mid-2012.
The Red Crescent said one driver was lightly wounded but the rest of the team eventually left central Homs safely.
Video footage released by activists showed the joint team, led by UN humanitarian coordinator in Syria Yacoub el Hillo, taking refuge on Saturday in a basement while explosions rocked the rubble-strewn, devastated streets above them.
In another video filmed inside Homs, Hillo said the aid supplies, including food parcels, medicines and hygiene kits, were just a drop in the ocean when set against the conditions endured by people trapped for a year and a half.
"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 said. "But let's start with this drop."