February 10, 2014 in Nation/World

Hundreds flee besieged Syrian city under truce

Barbara Surk And Diaa Hadid Associated Press
 
Tight deadline

Khaled Erksoussi of the Syrian Red Crescent, which is assisting the operation, said the agency hoped to evacuate as many civilians as possible before the truce expires today.

BEIRUT – Hundreds of civilians were evacuated Sunday from the besieged Syrian city of Homs, braving gunmen spraying bullets and lobbing mortar shells to flee as part of a rare three-day truce to relieve a choking blockade. Dozens were wounded as they fled.

The cease-fire came as Syrian officials arrived in Switzerland for a new round of talks with opposition activists-in-exile to try to negotiate an end to Syria’s three-year conflict.

More than 600 people were evacuated from Homs on Sunday, Governor Talal Barrazi said. The operation was part of a U.N.-mediated truce that began Friday between the government of President Bashar Assad and armed rebels to allow thousands of women, children and elderly men to leave opposition-held parts of the city, and to permit the entry of food and supplies.

Forces loyal to Assad have blockaded rebel-held parts of Homs for over a year, causing widespread hunger and suffering.

Dozens of people were wounded when they came under fire as they waited at an agreed-upon evacuation point in the rebel-held neighborhood of al-Qarabis, according to three activists based in Homs, who spoke to the Associated Press by Skype.

Despite the gunfire and exploding mortar shells, hundreds of women, children and elderly men ran toward a group of Red Crescent workers waiting less than a mile away, said an activist who gave his name as Samer al-Homsy. The Syrian activists said the gunfire came from a government-held neighborhood.

The Syrian news agency SANA also reported that civilians came under fire, but blamed “terrorists,” the government term for rebels.

At least four busloads of civilians were shipped out, according to footage broadcast on the Lebanese television station al-Mayadeen.

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