An aid convoy trying to reach a besieged rebel district of the Syrian city of Homs came under fire on Saturday, threatening a humanitarian operation which aimed to deliver medicine and food to around 2,500 trapped people.
The Syrian Arab Red Crescent said mortar fire landed close to its convoy and shots were fired at its trucks, wounding one of its drivers. Several vehicles from the aid convoy appeared to be stranded inside the city long after darkness fell.
Syrian media said four Red Crescent workers were wounded in the incident which authorities blamed on rebels. Opposition activists accused President Bashar al-Assad’s forces of staging the attack, as well as earlier mortar fire which delayed the start of the operation on Saturday morning.
The violence threatens to unravel a humanitarian deal for Homs which was the first concrete result of talks launched two weeks ago in Geneva to try to end the country’s civil war.
The conflict has killed 130,000 people, driven millions from their homes and devastated whole districts of Syrian cities – particularly Homs, a centre of protest when the 2011 uprising against 40 years of Assad family rule first erupted.
At the Geneva peace talks, which resume on Monday, international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi has been pushing for agreement on aid deliveries and prisoner releases, hoping that progress on those issues could build momentum to address the far more contentious question of political transition.
But even the humanitarian talks have taken time and delivered only modest achievements, the first of which was the evacuation on Friday of 83 women, children and elderly men from the Old City of Homs. Aid workers said many showed signs of malnutrition.
Homs governor Talal al-Barazi said two vehicles carrying aid supplies entered the Old City on Saturday but that rebels had targeted the route with mortar fire, preventing any more cars from entering.
Three hours after darkness fell, several vehicles from the aid mission had not returned from rebel-held districts.
Video footage published by activists showed a convoy of at least five white cars with United Nations markings stopped at a narrow street corner, while a man with a bloodied face was stretchered away.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors violence in Syria, said there were reports that two Syrians had been killed and several wounded by mortar fire in Old Homs.
Syria’s opposition National Coalition said on Saturday the aid operation in Homs was no substitute for lifting the siege on the remaining rebel-held area.
It said the evacuation of civilians could be “a prelude to the regime destroying the city with the remaining residents trapped inside”.
“It is vital to remember that the regime has used similar tactics in the past to change the demographics of some areas in Syria,” the Coalition said in a statement. continued…