Aid efforts to evacuate citizens of Homs during a three-day ceasefire over the weekend were interrupted by shelling and gunfire, intentionally targeting aid workers who still managed to bring out over 1,160 of the 2,500 civilians trapped there — according to numbers recieved by the Wall Street Journal, as well as at least 60 food parcels and over a ton of flour. The Geneva II peace conference between the Syrian regime delegation and rebel opposition started back up Monday, with the first talk — over a week ago — having produced little in the way of results. It was decided that the ceasefire, though not honored in the last three days, would continue for an additional three to allow more time to evacuate those inside the city.
“I welcome the news that the parties to the conflict have agreed to extend the humanitarian pause in Old Homs City for a further three days,” said Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, in a statement, adding that, “It is absolutely unacceptable that UN and Syrian Arab Red Crescent aid workers were deliberately targeted. I am deeply disappointed that the parties were unable to hold their ceasefire in Homs. This led to 112 people losing their lives needlessly as the operations were carried out.”
She reported that many of those evacuated said that conditions in the Old City field hospital were very poor, and that those in need of medical treatment were suffering badly. Khaled Erksoussi, head of Syrian Red Crescent operations, noted the stress on workers, but also emphasized that reaching those in need of aid has proven to be an enormously necessary but challenging effort that needs to continue passed short term ceasefires — in a UN News Centre update.
“Hundreds of women, children, the sick and elderly people have been evacuated after suffering for nearly two years and barely surviving. We acknowledge this is a step toward easing the siege. But one-off convoys into besieged areas offer only a minimum of relief. WFP [World Food Program] demands continuous and sustainable access to provide food and to monitor and assess needs,” said Erksoussi.
Homs is just one of many areas in need of extensive aid efforts, including the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus whose civilians have been suffering from extreme malnutrition and starvation, already resulting in many deaths. Relief workers have reported that some individuals have been shot by snipers in attempts to gather grass for food, leading to them being known as “martyrs of grass.” Food relief packages had to stop being delivered for those 18,000 Palestinians they’d been reached, according to a UN report, because of “security concerns.”
“There is an urgent imperative for a rapid resumption given the massive humanitarian needs of civilians that are yet to be addressed, the thousands of desperate civilians still to be served, and the fact that those who received UNRWA [UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] food parcels in the early part of the distribution have already run out of supplies and must be served agian,” said UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness.