DAMASCUS – A new deal reached between Syria’s warring parties to impose a three-day ceasefire to evacuate civilians and allow humanitarian aid to those who prefer to stay in besieged Homs has met praise and suspicion from world powers over Syrian regime intentions.
"It is foreseen that all children, women, men under age 55, as well as wounded people, can leave the combat zone without obstacle," Russia's Foreign Ministry was quoted by Reuters on Friday, February 7.
"Those residents of Old Homs who prefer to remain will be sent the necessary humanitarian aid," the ministry said.
On Thursday, the Syrian government announced that they have reached a deal with the United Nations, which will help women, children and the elderly to leave.
The deal will allow a three-day ceasefire in Homs, one of the first cities to erupt in protest against President Bashar al-Assad nearly three years ago and where streets have been destroyed in heavy fighting.
On Friday, the first bus carrying 11 weary-looking evacuees, accompanied by Syrian Arab Red Crescent officials, arrived at a meeting point outside Homs as government soldiers stood by.
The aid group expected 200 people to leave.
Another person was brought out by ambulance from the Old City district where activists say 2,500 people have been under siege for more than a year, hungry and malnourished.
The Homs deal is potentially the first modest result to emerge from deadlocked peace talks in Geneva.
The first face-to-face negotiations between Syria's warring sides began in the Swiss city two weeks ago and are due to resume on Monday.
The first round of Geneva II talks has concluded last Friday without agreement to end ongoing violence, with hopes that the second round next week may bring the long-awaited progress.
Moscow, which has supported and armed Assad throughout the civil war, hailed the Homs deal as a "landmark agreement".
US officials, however, were doubtful when the deal was announced on Thursday, saying they feared for the fate of anyone who moved from rebel areas into government control.
"We have reason on the basis of history to be very skeptical," US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said.
US state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki welcomed the agreement but said an evacuation was "not a substitute for the safe, regular and unfettered delivery of humanitarian assistance".
"We should not be giving credit to a regime just for providing food for a few days to people who are starving, given that's the right moral thing to do," she said.
"This is something they should have been doing all along."
The revolt against Assad began as peaceful protests calling for democracy and greater rights, but gradually turned to an armed struggle, pitting the Sunni majority against the president and his minority Alawite sect.
At least 125,835 since the start of the Syrian conflict, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights announced last week.
The UK based network, said that the toll included 44,381 civilians, 6,627 children and 4,454 women.
SOHR stated that at least 27,746 of rebel fighters were killed, among them more than 19,000 civilian who joined the armed opposition to fight Assad.
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