Syria to Attend Peace Talks as Civilians Leave Homs City

Syria’s government temporarily raised the siege of Homs to allow some women, children and elderly people to leave rebel-held areas that have endured government fire for about two years.

A three-day humanitarian pause went into effect today, and United Nations and Syrian Arab Red Crescent staff escorted 83 Syrians out of Homs to destinations of their choice, UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters in New York. Homs Governor Talal al-Barazi told the state-run Sana news agency that as many as 200 civilians were expected to leave the area on foot. A bus carrying the first group was shown on Syrian television.

UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi had pushed for the civilians’ departure as a confidence-building measure during the first face-to-face meetings in Switzerland last week between envoys of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government and the opposition. The UN is leading international efforts to bring an end to Syria’s three-year war, which has killed at least 130,000 people and caused more than 2 million to flee their homeland.

Brahimi has said the Geneva meetings will seek small achievements to keep momentum going. The Syrian government’s move came during a break in the talks, which are expected to resume on Feb. 10. The government side will attend, Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad told Sana today.

The civilians leaving Homs constitute only a fraction of those remaining in the city. The opposition puts the number at 4,500 and the government at about 700. The UN World Food Program has said it has trucks carrying food for as many as 2,500 people.

The peace talks, which began in Geneva on Jan. 24 after a ceremonial opening in Montreux, haven’t made progress on the key issue of Assad’s future in any transitional government in Syria.

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