Evacuation of Homs Raises Hopes for Syrian Peace Talks

By:  Warren Mass
Evacuation of Homs Raises Hopes for Syrian Peace Talks

The first groups of civilians were evacuated on February 7 from rebel-held sections of Homs, a war-ravaged city in western Syria that has been a major battleground between government and rebel forces in Syria’s civil war. The evacuation is considered to be a positive result stemming from the UN-backed Geneva II Conference on Syria held from January 22-31.

The Washington Post reported that the agreement reached after the first round of negotiations at Geneva II could pave the way for a second round, which is due to begin next week. The Syrian government on Friday confirmed that its representatives would attend.

The Jersualem Post reported that Homs governor Talal al-Barazi said when the deal was announced that the first group of evacuees from Homs would include children under 15, men over 55, and women. While reception centers had been set up to receive and treat people leaving the old city, those evacuated were free to go wherever they wanted.

“We are ready today to receive any number, even it exceeds 400, but according to the United Nations yesterday the expected number is 200, or it could be lower,” al-Barazi told Syrian television.

“We hope this first step will succeed and will continue tomorrow and after tomorrow and so on to ensure safe exit to all civilians who want to leave the old city.”

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said during a press briefing in Washington on Thursday:

We welcome the news that a deal has been reached between the opposition forces inside Homs and the region — and the regime, which would allow humanitarian access into Old City of Homs and allow evacuations of those civilians who want to do so. We understand the operations will begin tomorrow, Friday morning, and will include a local humanitarian pause while the evacuations take place and while the food and other humanitarian assistance is delivered.

Ms. Psaki was emphatic about not giving the Assad government any credit for allowing the evacuation or providing food for the evacuees, however. She stated:

As we have said, an evacuation is not a substitute for the safe, regular, and unfettered delivery of humanitarian assistance to those in need wherever they are....

Civilians are leaving their homes in Homs because they are in desperate need of food and medical attention. It is a tragedy that they should feel that they have to abandon their homes and split up their families just to eat and get care. This issue should never have been a problem in the first place....

So 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 and this is something they should have been doing all along.

Click here to read the entire article.

Photo of two buses of evacuees from Homs followed by Syrian Arab Red Crescent vehicles: AP Images

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