Syrian talks resume as Homs mission continues

Photo: Syrian talks resume as Homs mission continues / Arab World

Syrian government and opposition delegates are starting a fresh round of UN-brokered peace talks, a day after 600 people were evacuated from the city of Homs as part of a negotiated deal, Al Jazeera reported.

The first face-to-face meetings mediated by the UN-Arab League envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, adjourned 10 days ago with little progress other than a deal brokered by the UN to allow aid teams access to Homs.

Brahimi began holding separate closed-door meetings with the government and opposition delegations on Monday to try to set an agenda for the coming week. Prospects for common ground appear unlikely as the two sides continue to disagree on the core issue of President Bashar al-Assad's future.

The talks come as the UN and aid agencies continued their efforts to help thousands of people trapped in the besieged Old City area of Homs.

Six hundred people - mostly women, children and the elderly - were evacuated on Sunday, despite mortar attacks and shooting.

More civilians may be rescued as rebels and the Bashar al-Assad government have extended the ceasefire for another three days.

The Syrian Red Crescent said on Facebook "around 600 people evacuated today, registration is still ongoing. We managed to get 60 food parcels & 1500Kg of flour inside old city".

"Today [Monday] we will continue the evacuation of civilians via the same routes or new ones," a Red Crescent source told the AFP news agency.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 611 were brought out - "210 women, 180 children, 91 men over 55 years old and 130 young men who surrendered to Syrian authorities under UN supervision".

It said the men "will be released soon".

Television footage showed women, children and elderly men getting off the evacuation buses.

They appeared visibly exhausted and frail, in a video broadcast by the Beirut-based Al-Mayadeen TV channel.

Homs, much of which has been reduced to rubble, was dubbed "the capital of the revolution" by activists before an offensive in 2012 by regime forces recaptured much of the city.

The civilians evacuated from Homs on Sunday were aided by UN staff and Syrian Red Crescent volunteers amid a strong Syrian army presence.

State television said the operation took place under fire from "armed terrorist groups" - regime terminology for rebels.

But the Syrian Observatory echoed claims by activists that at least five people were killed in shelling that targeted the besieged Homs district of Qarabis.

Activists accused pro-government fighters in neighbourhoods bordering the besieged districts who opposed the truce, of firing the mortar rounds.

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