Hundreds evacuated from Syria’s Homs

After a U.N. aid convoy came under fire in Homs, the U.N. humanitarian chief pledged to keep trying to deliver assistance

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Hundreds of civilians were evacuated Sunday from the besieged city of Homs, braving gunmen spraying bullets and lobbing mortar shells to flee as part of a rare three-day truce to relieve a choking blockade, the Associated Press reported.

In the north, government aircraft dropped so-called barrel bombs - crude weapons packed with explosives, fuel and scraps of metal - on two rebel-held districts of Aleppo, killing at least 11 people, opposition activists said.

More than 600 people were evacuated from Homs with the assistance of the Syrian Red Crescent, according to Governor Talal Barrazi.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed that “more than 500 civilians” were evacuated Sunday, in compliance with a U.N.-brokered deal over the besieged districts, where some 3,000 people had been trapped.

The civilians were assisted by U.N. staff wearing helmets and blue vests, and Syrian Red Crescent volunteers. There was also a strong Syrian army presence at the evacuation site.

Meanwhile, U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos on Saturday vowed to keep pushing to deliver humanitarian assistance to Syria’s neediest after an aid convoy was came under fire in the besieged rebel city of Homs.

“I continue to call on those engaged in this brutal conflict to respect the humanitarian pause, ensure the protection of civilians and facilitate the safe delivery of aid,” she was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

“The United Nations and our humanitarian partners will not be deterred from doing the best we can to bring aid to those needing our help.”

In the statement, Amos had expressed deep disappointment over the attack in Homs.

“I am deeply disappointed that the three-day humanitarian pause agreed between the parties to the conflict was broken today and aid workers deliberately targeted,” Amos said in a statement.

“Today’s events serve as a stark reminder of the dangers that civilians and aid workers face every day across Syria,” she said.

On Saturday, mortar fire landed close to the convoy of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and shots were fired at its trucks, wounding one of its drivers, aid workers had said.

The attacks were blamed on Syrian opposition fighters by the authorities, but opposition activists placed blame on President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Activists also said Assad’s forces were responsible for earlier mortar fire that delayed the start of the operation on Saturday morning.

The humanitarian deal for Homs was the first concrete result of talks launched two weeks ago in Geneva to try to end the country’s nearly three-year-old civil war that has killed over 136,000 people.

(With Reuters)

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