The Syrian conflict has continued, with reports of human rights violations and barrel bombings, despite initial peace efforts at the Geneva II conference and a potential continuation of these efforts upcoming — should both delegations decide to attend. So far, the Syrian government has confirmed its attendance at the Monday talks. And now, a temporary ceasefire has been called around the city of Homs so evacuations can take place.
According to the BBC, it’s estimated that as many as 3,000 civilians could be caught in Homs, and so far, buses have removed 16 individuals from the rebel-occupied Old City portion of Homs; 12 older civilians were taken to the Homs governor’s residence earlier. Syria’s state TV reports that 35 individuals in total have so far been evacuated, claiming that most were “children and elderly who had been used as human shields by terrorists.”
A BBC reporter noted that those those who have been evacuated have been fed and given medical checkups, but that they’ve alerted journalists to the fact that there are still many within the city who would like to be evacuated. “We hope this first step will succeed and will continue tomorrow and after tomorrow [Saturday], to ensure safe exit to all civilians who want to leave the Old City,” Talal Barazi, the Homs governor, said to BBC.
“It is foreseen that all children, women, men under age 55, as well as wounded people, can leave the combat zone without obstacle,” said Russia’s Foreign Ministry, according to Reuters, while the Syrian Arab Red Crescent aid group said that it believes 200 would leave the city.
Other regions have been seeking evacuation, as well: The recent release of hundreds of civilians from the Yarmouk Camp in Damascus revealed severe starvation in the area. Aid groups report that approximately 89 people died of hunger or malnutrition-associated illness, a majority of these made up of children and elderly individuals. Relief workers said that those remaining in the camp are suffering to the point of consuming cats, cactus, and grass, and that some individuals were shot by snipers while trying to gather grass for food, coming to be known as the “martyrs of grass.”
“I sincerely hope that the second round of negotiations will begin as planned on 10 February,” said United Nation Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, also expressing hope that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov might be able to get both delegations to enter the second talks “with greater seriousness and urgency.”
There has been some criticism, especially from human rights groups — and to a certain extent, the United States — that peace talks are having little effect while atrocities continue. U.N. representatives have emphasized the importance in just the accomplishment of having sit downs and communication between the sides. Major concerns surrounding chemical weapon removal and the destruction deadline have also cropped up after delays in the process have put the agreed-upon timeline at risk.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is continuing efforts, and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney emphasized that Russia and the U.S. are ensuring that the Assad regime follows through on its obligations.