Syria to let women, kids leave besieged Homs

January 27, 2014 - 3:08:04 am

A man carries a bag amid debris in the besieged area of Homs, yesterday.

GENEVA: The Syrian regime has agreed to allow women and children to leave besieged rebel-held areas of the central city of Homs, UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said yesterday at peace talks in Geneva.

“What we have been told by the government side is that women and children in this besieged area of the city are welcome to leave immediately,” Brahimi told reporters.

“Hopefully starting tomorrow, women and children will be able to leave the Old City in Homs.”

He said that as well as women and children, “other civilians are also welcome to leave, but the government needs a list of their names first”.

The subject of Homs — where hundreds of families in the Old City are living under siege with near-daily shelling and the barest of supplies — has been discussed at length since the two parties started face-to-face talks on Saturday.

“You know that the centre of the city has been under siege for a very, very long time and now I hope that we are approaching a solution for at least the civilians,” Brahimi said. He said talks had also touched on continued efforts to have convoys of humanitarian aid brought into Homs.

“As far as Homs is concerned, there is an agreement now from the armed groups on the inside not to attack an assistance convoy entering Homs,” he said.

Brahimi admitted the talks were progressing slowly but said he was pleased with the atmosphere so far.

“I am happy, because in general there is mutual respect and they are aware of the fact that this attempt is important and we must continue. I hope that this mood will continue,” he said.

Talks yesterday also touched on the thousands of people jailed, kidnapped or missing in the country.

Brahimi said the opposition had agreed “they will try to collect a list of names” of people held by rebel forces they control or have contact with, to hand over to the regime to move the process of prisoner exchanges forward.

The opposition has said it wants the talks today to move to the core issue of a political transition.

Brahimi said the talks would become more general.

“This is a political negotiation, everything we discuss is political,” he said. “I think tomorrow I expect the two parties to make some general statement about the way forward.”

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad confirmed that women and children would be allowed to leave and blamed rebel forces for blocking then in the first place.

“I have been personally involved over the past two years to get these women and children out of the Old City of Homs. But we could not. In all these attempts we have been prevented by the armed groups, who did not allow a single person out,” Muqdad told reporters.

Talks on Sunday also touched on the thousands of people jailed, kidnapped or missing in the country.

Brahimi said the opposition had agreed “they will try to collect a list of names” of people held by rebel forces they control or have contact with, to hand over to the regime to move the process of prisoner exchanges forward. 

Meanwhile, the wife of prominent Syrian activist and journalist Mazen Darwish, detained by authorities since February 2012, yesterday appealed for his release as a “goodwill gesture” amid peace talks in Switzerland.

Her call came as Syrian government and opposition delegations in Geneva were set to discuss the fate of thousands of people missing, jailed and kidnapped since the outbreak of the conflict in March 2011.

Darwish was set to appear before a Damascus court today on “terror” charges along with his colleagues Hussein Ghreir and Hani Zaitani.“We appeal to the Syrian government to release Mazen, Hani and Hussein. I hope the authorities will see Geneva II as an opportunity for a real peaceful solution, and part of that would mean releasing people who are peaceful activists,” said his wife Yara Badr, who is also a journalist.

AFP

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