The Syrian government Friday announced it would participate in the next round of Geneva peace talks aimed at ending the country’s civil war, as civilians trapped in a rebel-controlled part of Homs, one of the conflict’s urban epicenters, began trickling out under a deal negotiated by the United Nations.
Syria’s official SANA news agency said at least 58 people, mostly women, children and the elderly, had departed the besieged Old City neighborhood of Homs by midafternoon. Syrian state television broadcast images of frail civilians escorted onto a bus by members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. Vehicles from the United Nations refugee agency and World Food Program could also be seen.
The Homs governor, Talal al-Barazi, was quoted by SANA as saying he expected 200 civilians to be evacuated by day’s end and that he had reached an agreement with the United Nations to allow aid deliveries inside the besieged area to those who chose to remain.
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Precisely when the aid would be allowed into the area, where about 2,500 civilians have been trapped along with an unknown number of fighters, remained unclear. But in an interview with Syrian state television, Yacoub El Hillo, the UN official overseeing the evacuation process, said it would continue in the forthcoming days and that he expected aid distribution to start on Saturday.
The emergence of at least some of the trapped civilians reflected the first tangible result of intense international diplomacy and pressure on the antagonists in Homs.