Syria Government Says Women, Children Can Leave Homs

Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi gives a short press briefing upon his arrival to the UN headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Jan. 26, 2014, as Syria's government and opposition met for UN-mediated talks.

Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi gives a short press briefing upon his arrival to the UN headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Jan. 26, 2014, as Syria’s government and opposition met for UN-mediated talks.

 

U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi says Syrian government delegates, at peace talks in Geneva, have agreed to allow women and children to immediately leave a besieged district in the central city of Homs.

Homs is one of Syria’s largest cities and has been pounded by government assaults to reclaim control from rebel forces.

The breakthrough followed two rounds of talks Sunday between the U.N. mediator and representatives of Syria’s government and the opposition.

The early talks in Geneva, Switzerland, focused on the release of thousands of prisoners, including women, children and the elderly, from Syrian prisons.

Brahimi told a press conference later Sunday the opposition has agreed to a government request for a list of detainees held by armed rebel groups.

Brahimi said he will meet the two sides jointly on Monday. The idea of forming a transitional governing body might come up then.

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Syria talks: Civilians to be allowed out of Homs old city

Man walk through damaged buildings in the besieged area of Homs The old city of Homs has been under siege by government forces

Syria will allow women and children to leave the besieged area of Homs “from now”, the UN mediator at the Geneva peace talks has told reporters.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said women and children were free to leave. He said armed groups were preventing them from leaving.

Mr Brahimi said that the opposition had agreed to give the government lists of detainees held by armed groups.

He said it was “too early” to assess the prospects of a comprehensive deal.

Mr Brahimi said he hoped a humanitarian convoy from the UN and the Red Cross would be able to go to Homs on Monday.

Mr Mekdad said he hoped arrangements could be made with local officials to allow the convoy access but that the aid must not fall into “the hands of terrorists”, the term Syrian officials for all armed opposition.

Lakhdar Brahimi said that the government would allow women and children to leave immediately but had asked for a list of adult male civilians who wanted to leave to ensure they were not fighters.

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Syria talks mediator presses for deal to allow aid into Homs

Government and opposition negotiators struggling to agree on local ceasefire sought by Lakhdar Brahimi at Geneva talks
Lakhdar Brahimi

Lakhdar Brahimi is representing the UN and Arab League at the Syria talks in Geneva. Photograph: Salvatore Di Nolfi/EPA

Syrian government and opposition negotiators are struggling to agree on a local ceasefire to allow humanitarian relief supplies into Homs, on the second day of UN-mediated talks about confidence-building measures.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the Algerian diplomat representing the UN and Arab League, is trying to nail down an agreement allowing aid through to a rebel-held area of the central Syrian town. But government officials said the talks in Geneva did not need to deal with the issue, underlying their unhappiness with the conference, which is seeking to end a war that has claimed 130,000 lives and made two million people refugees.

Brahimi said on Saturday that the negotiations had got off to a “good beginning”, but said the two sides were speaking only through him and not directly to each other.

In Sunday’s first session the format was the same. In the afternoon the teams convened in separate rooms at the UN HQ, with the veteran mediator shuttling between them.

In the morning, opposition delegates placed on an empty chair a photograph of Abdel-Aziz al-Khayr, of the moderate Damascus-based National Co-ordination Bureau, who was detained in 2012, probably by the regime. The point was to demonstrate how Bashar al-Assad’s repression targeted even his mildest critics.

Munzer Aqbiq, spokesman for the western-backed Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC), accused Assad of stalling on the Homs aid convoy. Buthaina Shaaban, the president’s media adviser, said the matter was being dealt with in Damascus. Western diplomats said the official Syrian delegation had denied knowing about the relief plan – which was drawn up with input from the US and Russia, as well as the UN and Red Cross – when it was raised.

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