Evacuation efforts continue for the Syrian city of Homs this week, with thousands waiting for aid and removal from the dangerous conditions. Meanwhile, the Geneva II Syrian peace conference has started up again, with both government regime and opposition delegations showing up for the talks that began Monday, an accomplishment whose likelihood had previously been in doubt.
Just prior to the talks, a ceasefire had been called in Homs so that aid workers could begin bringing aid to and evacuees from the city. Valerie Amos, the under-secretary general for Humanitarian Affairs with the United Nations, said ”she is deeply disappointed that a three-day humanitarian pause agreed between the parties to the Syrian conflict was broken on Saturday and aid workers were deliberately targeted as they tried to deliver food and medicine to Homs.”
Those workers who brought food and supplies to the city in vehicles dealt with both gun and mortar fire. “I extend my sympathies to people who were injured in fighting and commend the courage and tenacity of the UN Humanitarian Coordinator and other UN and Red Crescent aid workers who entered the Old City of Homs to try and deliver critical aid,” said Amos in a UN press release, adding that she calls on those fighting to “respect the humanitarian pause” and that workers will continue their efforts.
Even with the unexpected violence, some of the thousands of people within the city managed to leave. “The last vehicle has arrived and the total is 611 people,” said Homs Governor Talal Barazi, according to the BBC, which confirmed with the Red Crescent the numbers, as well as reporting that 60 food parcels and more than a ton of flour were successfully brought into the city.
“Homs is one of the many areas besieged by government forces or by armed opposition groups where needs are severe. So what is required for civilians, in the old city of Homs as elsewhere in the country, is more than quick fixes and a one-off aid distribution. We should be under no illusion that there will be any quick and easy solutions to the problem,” said Robert Mardini, the head of operations for the Near and Middle East with the International Committee of the Red Cross.
According to a press release, UN officials are working with “local authorities, representatives of the parties and community leaders.” The Syrian conflict has led to more than 100,000 deaths, with millions displaced and numerous accounts of major human rights violations, including a recent report from the UN on both violent and sexual abuse of children occurring within the country on both sides.
Prior to that, Human Rights Watch released a report on the criminal destruction of neighborhoods by the Syrian government in the cities of Hama and Damascus, categorized as having disproportionate harm caused to non-militants. Barrel bomb use in recent weeks have also been cause for criticism, as they have resulted in sweeping and variegated destruction.