February 6, 2014
By Elizabeth Parker-Magyar and Osama Abu Zaid
AMMAN: Syrian state television announced Thursday that the governor of Homs had reached an agreement with the UN to evacuate injured and ill citizens from besieged Old Homs, but citizens inside said they will not leave their homes and instead called for a corridor to allow aid to enter the encircled area.
“We don’t trust any [regime] proposal to evacuate the wounded,” said Abu Mazen, a citizen journalist inside Old Homs, where an estimated 500 families in 13 neighborhoods that have not only been bombed almost daily but completely encircled for nearly 600 days, allowing no movement or food in or out.
“The regime’s goal is the displacement of citizens,” said Bebars a-Telawi, a prominent activist still in Old Homs. The move to evacuate residents of the old city is “short-sighted,” he added, because the bigger problem is the Syrian regime’s ongoing bombing and shelling of neighborhoods controlled by the Free Syrian Army where thousands of families remain trapped.
“We need to break the siege – there are families behind the blockade that need treatment outside, and there are families outside the blockade that need to return to their homes,” al-Telawi said.
Homs residents hold signs reading “13 neighborhoods on blockade since 9/6/2012” and “8 cases of death by starvation.”
“We need humanitarian aid to enter [the besieged areas] immediately,” said Ahmed Abu Luay, a citizen journalist in Old Homs.
Meanwhile, the state media on Thursday touted what it called “the success of an agreement with the United Nations to guarantee citizens’ exit from the Old City very shortly” after two weeks of refusing to allow humanitarian aid in.
The 500 families in Old Homs have found themselves at the center of the Geneva II peace talks, where UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon announced that negotiations would begin with the delivery of humanitarian aid to the encircled Homs neighborhoods.
But after the regime and opposition concluded a verbal agreement to allow civilians out and aid in, the regime began backpedaling almost immediately, framing the evacuation of citizens only as an adequate substitute for allowing food and medicine to reach their homes.
Regardless, no one still has been allowed out.
Last week, the World Food Program said its trucks were on standby, waiting for the “green light” to deliver enough food to Old Homs for 2,500 people for one month, including food to “treat stunting and acute malnutrition in children.”
But the green light has yet to come, and for Syrians inside the city, the convoy was so close they could see it. “Aid still has not entered Homs, despite being just a few meters away in the [regime-controlled neighborhood of] Ghouta, adjacent to besieged Jora a-Shiah,” said Abu Mazen. “The regime stopped the trucks close to the state security branch.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which has not sent aid to Old Homs, nevertheless expressed disappointment that a deal to allow humanitarian access had not been reached.
In November 2012 “the situation was catastrophic, so you can imagine how it must be now after more than a year under siege,” said Robert Mardini, the ICRC’s Head of Operations in the MENA region. Since then, “we have never managed to obtain the authorizations and guarantees we need” to access the city, he added.
The opposition Syrian National Coalition and the Syrian government delegation will attend the second round of Geneva II talks beginning Monday, February 10. The view from encircled Homs, say activists on the ground, inspires little hope for relief for their besieged areas and the country at large.
If the regime cannot implement a verbal agreement to aid starving civilians, says citizen journalist Abu Mazen, “we can no longer have any trust in the regime nor in the international community.”
“If it’s just the simple entry of materials, how will we gain trust for more crucial affairs?”
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