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As shelling breaks ceasefire, UN aid convoy evacuates hundreds from Old Homs

February 9, 2014 By Osama Abu Zaid and Elizabeth Parker-Magyar […]

9 February 2014

February 9, 2014

By Osama Abu Zaid and Elizabeth Parker-Magyar

AMMAN: A United Nations humanitarian aid convoy evacuated 600 citizens amidst continued shelling in Old Homs on Sunday, Syrian state television reported, one day after mortar shelling shattered a short-lived United Nations-negotiated ceasefire, killing four residents and injuring one humanitarian worker.

“A number of citizens exited [the Old Homs district of ]al-Qarabees on foot, exposed to shelling, while heading toward the United Nations location at the Dik al-Jinn checkpoint,” Omar al-Telawi, a pro-opposition citizen journalist in Old Homs, told Syria Direct on Sunday.

On Sunday, 10 people were killed and four injured as they ran toward UN trucks “without any level of protection,” al-Telawi said, blaming Assad forces for the attacks.

“Assad’s shabiha are violently mortar shelling citizens as they gather to exit in an attempt to evacuate them from the blockade and to bring in humanitarian aid,” another citizen journalist asking to remain anonymous said on Sunday.

“There are many killed and critically wounded.”

Hundreds of Old Homs residents ran toward United Nations vehicles under continued shelling. Video courtesy of the Bab al-Sabaa Media Center.

Though no group has claimed responsibility for the shelling humanitarian workers have joined opposition activists in placing the blame on either the pro-government Shiite shabiha militias or the National Defense Forces, semi-official local militias that have received arms, training and funding from the Syrian government.

The Syrian government has placed the blame on rebel groups inside Old Homs, accusing the groups of targeting the civilians they have lived amongst through 600 days of blockade.

“Four were wounded from the Red Crescent by terrorist fire,” official news agency SANA reported Sunday.

On Friday, the first humanitarian convoy to enter the 13 encircled, rebel-controlled neighborhoods of Old Homs since November 2012 evacuated 83 citizens.

The 72-hour ceasefire beginning Friday was the fruit of two weeks of focused United Nations efforts to convince the Syrian government to open humanitarian corridors, allowing not just the evacuation of citizens, but also the entry of food and medicine to the 500 families still inside the blockaded area.

When shelling interrupted the quiet on Saturday, the UN’s convoy of Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) trucks had managed to distribute just 250 food parcels.

“The trucks began entering Homs before sunset Saturday, heading toward the city center through the neighborhood of al-Hamidiyeh,” Bebars al-Telawi, a well-known activist, told Syria Direct. “Before entering al-Hamidiyeh, it was shelled again,” he said, with a mortar shell landed next to a SARC truck, injuring its driver.

At nightfall, humanitarian workers, including Yacoub al-Hilou, the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Syria, were still trapped inside Old Homs. When they left the city at 8pm, they left two trucks inside.

“The trucks are still being targeted by sniper fire,” said Abu Hassan al-Zein, a spokesman for the Youth Revolutionary Commission in Homs.

“All who use these tools, have to stop,” al-Hilou said Sunday. “Our goal now is to focus on the civilians, children and the elderly.”

On Sunday, despite what Bebars al-Telawi called “citizens’ great fears that the UN could not even protect itself,” UN trucks were able to successfully evacuate citizens, but have not yet delivered more humanitarian aid.

For weeks, activists inside Old Homs’ have voiced concerns that an evacuation is meaningless without the delivery of aid, alluding to the SARC’s November evacuation of the Damascus suburb of Moadimiyet e-Sham. Three months later, citizens who chose to remain in Moadimiyet e-Sham still face the threat of starvation, while citizens who evacuated were reportedly detained and interrogated.

United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos repeated the call for the entry of humanitarian aid shortly after the Old Homs evacuation Sunday, citing the population as a single blockaded area amidst hundreds.

“We must ensure sustained delivery of aid to all 250,000 people in besieged communities across Syria,” she posted on Twitter, noting the “welcome news” of the Homs evacuation.

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