As the first of 2,500 Syrians trapped by war in the Old City of Homs without aid for nearly two years were evacuated today under a three-day accord allowing people out and aid in, the United Nations called for immediate access to nearly 1.6 million others throughout the country who have been without regular food or medical supplies for many months.
“I continue to call for the safe and voluntary evacuation of all civilians and for full access for humanitarian workers to help people caught in similar situations across Syria,” UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos said in a statement, calling today's operation “a breakthrough, and a small but important step towards compliance with international humanitarian law.”
More than 80 women, children and elderly were evacuated from the Old City of Homs, the first of the 500 families who have become a symbol of the horrors inflicted upon civilians by the civil war in which considerably more than 100,000 people have been killed and millions of others driven from their homes since the conflict erupted in March 2011 when originally peaceful protestors sought the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad.
The UN, often with relief convoys mere miles away from the civilians under siege, has long demanded that the warring parties grant full humanitarian access. But the sides refused to give the green light until yesterday when a so-called “humanitarian pause” was announced for Homs, where UN trucks have been on standby for weeks only 12 kilometres from the Old City, ready to deliver urgently needed food and medicines.
Ms. Amos said she remains in close contact with humanitarian teams on the ground, who are working with the local authorities, representatives of the parties and community leaders to evacuate more civilians and deliver aid in the next few days.
Those evacuated today were taken to the places of their choice, escorted by UN and Syrian Arab Red Crescent staff.
For the most part, the operation went smoothly but there were isolated reports of gunfire heard during the day.