Syria to allow women, children to leave besieged parts of Homs: UN

Syria to allow women, children to leave besieged parts of Homs: UN

GENEVA - Reuters
Syria to allow women, children to leave besieged parts of Homs: UN

Syrian opposition chief negotiator Hadi al-Bahra (3rd R) and General Secretary of the Syrian National Council Badr Jamous (C) arrive with the opposition delegation to attend a meeting at the 'Geneva II' peace talks dedicated to the ongoing conflict in Syria, on Jan. 25. AFP photo

The Syrian regime has agreed to allow women and children to leave besieged rebel-held areas of the central city of Homs, U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said Jan. 26 at peace talks in Geneva.

"What we have been told by the government side is that women and children in this besieged area of the city are welcome to leave immediately," Brahimi told reporters. "Hopefully starting tomorrow, women and children will be able to leave the Old City in Homs." He said that as well as women and children, "other civilians are also welcome to leave, but the government needs a list of their names first."

The subject of Homs - where hundreds of families in the Old City are living under siege with near-daily shelling and the barest of supplies - has been discussed at length since the two parties started face-to-face talks on Jan. 25.

"You know that the centre of the city has been under siege for a very, very long time and now I hope that we are approaching a solution for at least the civilians," Brahimi said.

He said talks had also touched on continued efforts to have convoys of humanitarian aid brought into Homs.

"As far as Homs is concerned, there is an agreement now from the armed groups on the inside not to attack an assistance convoy entering Homs," he said.

Brahimi admitted the talks were progressing slowly but said he was pleased with the atmosphere so far.

"I am happy, because in general there is mutual respect and they are aware of the fact that this attempt is important and we must continue. I hope that this mood will continue," he said.

Talks on Jan. 26 also touched on the thousands of people jailed, kidnapped or missing in the country.

Opposition figures said they presented a list of 47,000 detainees whose release they are seeking, as well as 2,500 women and children whose freedom they say is a priority.

In an attempt to overcome finding common ground between two intractably opposed parties, Brahimi dedicated the first two days of talks to humanitarian issues, hoping to create a platform on which to build the far tougher political talks.

Brahimi plans to start addressing on Jan. 27 what he has called the core issue of the talks - implementing a June 2012 accord which called for the establishment of a transitional governing body by mutual consent. 

Syria without al-Assad ‘Alice in Wonderland’

Brahimi initially described the sessions on Jan. 25 as a good beginning but conceded that little progress was achieved.

“The other side came here to discuss a small problem here or there. We came to discuss the future of Syria,” presidential adviser Bouthaina Shaaban said outside the U.N. headquarters in Geneva, where the two sides are holding indirect talks - gathered in the same room across two sides of a U-shaped table, but addressing their remarks through Brahimi.

Shaaban also said the government was ready to discuss the 2012 Geneva accord.

The statement was issued 18 months ago under very different circumstances, Shaaban said, also accusing the opposition of focusing exclusively on demands for a transfer of power.

“Geneva is not the Koran, it’s not the Gospel,” she told reporters. Syrian Information Minister Omran Zoabi said there was no chance of al-Assad surrendering power. “If anybody thinks or believes that there is a possibility for what is called the stepping down of President Bashar al-Assad, they live in a mythical world and let them stay in Alice in Wonderland.”

Opposition’s Akbik said even without progress on Homs, the talks would move onto the substantial political talks on Jan. 27, and that the opposition would not accept any watering down of its demand for the Geneva communiqué’s implementation.

“There is no possibility of reviewing Geneva 1 articles - not even one letter,” he said.
Profound mutual mistrust and the absence from Geneva of powerful Islamist opposition groups make any substantial progress very difficult.