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Homs mission 'a success' as Syria talks stall

Hundreds still trapped in Homs, with second ceasefire extension offered, while little progress made at peace talks.

Last updated: 11 Feb 2014 18:41
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Brahimi described the talks as 'laborious' and said both sides needed to cooperate [AFP]

The United Nations is to talk to rebels about the evacuation effort from Homs, with the city's governor, Talal Barzai, saying the Syrian regime was willing to have another ceasefire extension to allow more people to leave and more aid to enter.

Barzai told Al Jazeera on Tuesday that the UN would speak to rebels by telephone to know the exact number of people still trapped inside the Old City, saying he thought there were between 500 and 800 people left.

 

He said that the aid mission in Homs, suspended on Tuesday for "logistical and technical reasons", would resume on Wednesday, as a second round of talks being held in Geneva to try to bring peace made little headway.

The Homs governor also said that other routes in and out of the city were being studied for the safety of the UN team and the evacuees they were helping.

Barzai also told Al Jazeera that the Syrian regime was willing to extend the ceasefire beyond its Wednesday evening deadline as long as civilians wanted to be evacuated and aid needed to reach them.

Intense aid effort

His comments follow four days of an intense relief effort from the UN and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, which have tried to evacuate as many people as possible despite a violated ceasefire.

UNICEF reported on Tuesday that at least 500 children and 20 pregnant women were among the 1,130 people estimated to have left Homs since Friday, the first day of the ceasefire.

The aid work has taken place amid various threats to civilian safety, including gunshots, mortar fire and screening. The UN expressed concern about 'fighting age men' being held by government forces on leaving Homs.

Spokesman Martin Nesirky said on Tuesday: “We understand about 370 men who left Old Homs in the last couple of days are being screened by government forces. More than 111 have been released so far. We’re concerned for their welfare. "We have UN protection officers present at the school where these individuals are being held and are talking to the men after their questioning. It’s essential they do not come to any harm."

"Laborious" Geneva

UN Arab League envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, who is overseeing the talks in Geneva, has also spoken of the volatile security situation in Homs.

He told a news conference on Tuesday: "You know that Homs can be called a success that has been six months in the making. Six long months...but it was extremely risky. Our colleagues and also the admirable young people from the Syrian Red Crescent, volunteers all of them, took a lot of risks."

A weary-looking Brahimi urged both sides to cooperate for the sake of the Syrian people, describing the beginning of the second stage as "laborious".

"They come here at the initiative of Russia and America, with the support I think of the entire world, and everybody is looking at them, most of all the people of Syria. The people of Syria are thinking: "Please, get something going that will stop this nightmare and this injustice that is inflicted on the Syrian people".

On Friday, Brahimi meets Russia's Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gennady Gatilov, and US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Wendy Sherman. He also revealed that he would travel to New York next week to report to the UN Secretary-General and "most probably" to the UN Security Council.

The opposition and government delegations remain at loggerheads. The opposition says the only way to end the conflict is to form a transitional government without President Bashar al-Assad, with the regime insisting his future is not a subject for discussion. Its focus remains fixed on dealing with "terrorism" - a term it uses for all armed opposition.

Tuesday's morning session, which saw Brahimi meet both sides simultaneously, was dominated by a failure on both sides to agree on an agenda. There was no afternoon session.

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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