Evacuation of Syria's Homs halts, governor blames 'armed groups'

AFP , Sunday 16 Feb 2014

The evacuation of civilians from Syria's Homs city has halted, with no new efforts to extend a truce and the governor saying Sunday "armed groups" prevented operations a day earlier.

In a statement, Talal Barazi said "the evacuation of civilians was not carried out yesterday (Saturday) because some of the armed groups prevented the citizens inside from moving to the transit point to leave".

"The province will continue its efforts with the United Nations to evacuate all those who wish to leave," he added.

The United Nations and Syria's Red Crescent began operations to evacuate trapped civilians and deliver aid inside besieged parts of Homs on February 7.

The work was made possible by a deal that included a ceasefire that was extended twice, but expired on Saturday night with no word of attempts to extend it further.

The UN and Red Crescent were able to evacuate some 1,400 of the 3,000 people estimated to be trapped in Homs for more than 18 months by a government siege.

But around 400 men and boys aged 15-55 were detained by authorities for investigation upon leaving.

Barazi said on Saturday that 390 male evacuees had left Homs, with 211 released so far.

On Thursday, the UN said 430 men and boys had been detained with just 181 released.

The fate of the male evacuees has prompted concern at the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross, whose chief warned Saturday that they "must be treated humanely at all times and be allowed to contact their families".

Peter Maurer also lamented the chaotic evacuation process, which saw aid convoys come under fire and shelling kill more than a dozen people despite the nominal truce.

On Sunday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said several besieged neighbourhoods of Homs came under regime shelling, and government forces battled rebels in the outskirts of the districts.

Regime forces also shelled the Waer neighbourhood, a Homs district under opposition control but not subject to the army siege, where most of the evacuees fled.

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