Humanitarian ceasefire in Homs extended

Thursday 13 February 2014 12.16
Smoke billows from buildings following a reported air strike by government forces on the Qadam suburb on the outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus
Smoke billows from buildings following a reported air strike by government forces on the Qadam suburb on the outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus

A humanitarian ceasefire in the Syrian city of Homs has been extended for three more days, according to the city's governor.

Governor Talal al-Barazi said the extension, starting today, would "allow the evacuation of the remaining civilians".

He added that a total of 1,400 people had been evacuated from the besieged Old City since last Friday, when the UN-brokered ceasefire began.

Of those, 220 were still undergoing background checks, he said, meaning they were being detained for questioning.

While women and children have been free to leave, boys and men aged between 15 and 55 are deemed of fighting age by the Syrian authorities and are being vetted by the security forces.

Mr Tarazi said 70 people had been cleared for release today.

In a statement yesterday, a US State Department spokesman said the government had pledged to release men after they had been screened.

"We expect them to keep that pledge," Edgar Vasquez, the spokesman, said.

"Given the regime's past actions, the international community cannot take this for granted and needs to monitor the fate of these men," he added.

Activists said yesterday that more Syrians have been killed in the three weeks since peace talks began than at any other time in the civil war.

More than 230 people have been killed every day in Syria since 22 January, when international mediators brought President Bashar al-Assad's government and its opponents together, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

It is unclear how far the bloodshed is a consequence of the talks, as both sides seek to improve their bargaining positions by gaining territory.

Yesterday, Mr Assad's army and fighters from Lebanese ally Hezbollah pounded the strategic border town of Yabroud where rebels prepared to resist a ground offensive.

The UN says more than 130,000 Syrians have been killed in nearly three years of fighting.

There was little sign of an early breakthrough on the third day of a second round of talks in the Swiss city yesterday.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said that his government has presented its own draft UN Security Council resolution on humanitarian aid access in Syria after rejecting a rival Western-Arab text.

Speaking at a news conference, he said the plan laid out "our vision of the role the Security Council can play if we want to foster a solution to the problems and not antagonise one side or the other".