Over 600 Syrians evacuated from Homs

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(CNN) — More than 600 people were evacuated from a restive Syrian city on Sunday, after gunfire interrupted a U.N.-brokered humanitarian pause, state media reported.

Syria’s government-run Syria TV channel and news agency SANA said Sunday afternoon that 611 people were convoyed out of the city of Homs.

SANA reported most of the people evacuated were women, children and senior citizens, citing the governor of the province, Talal al-Barazi.

Vehicles from the Red Crescent and United Nations had a difficult time entering the city over the weekend as they were targeted by gunfire and explosives.

But workers managed to deliver some aid to the thousands of people in the besieged section of the city known as the Old City of Homs, where rebels battle government troops and each other.

A photo on the Twitter feed of the Syrian Red Crescent showed dozens of people standing in the rubble of a street as aid workers passed out supplies and food.

“Although the team was shelled and fired upon we managed to deliver 250 food parcels,190 hygiene kits and chronic diseases medicines,” the organization said in a tweet on Saturday.

The team said that one driver suffered a minor injury when explosions and gunfire hit near the convoy in Homs.

The convoy left, but two of the four trucks were damaged and had to be left behind, the organization said.

Who targeted the aid workers is in dispute.

A Wall Street Journal reporter in Syria told CNN that workers in the convoy had no doubt the fire came from government forces. But Sam Dagher said al-Barazi told him it was two rival rebel factions — one that wants to keep civilians as human shields and another that wants to exchange them for aid.

Valerie Amos, the U.N. humanitarian chief, lamented Saturday that the “three-day humanitarian pause agreed (upon) was broken today and aid workers (were) deliberately targeted.”

“Today’s events serve as a stark reminder of the dangers that civilians and aid workers face every day across Syria,” said Amos, who applauded “the courage and tenacity” of U.N. and Red Crescent aid workers.

Video from the scene posted by activists showed bullet holes in the aid vehicles and damage to buildings from explosions.

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency had reported that four Syrian Arab Red Crescent workers were wounded Saturday by gunfire from “terrorist groups” while trying to deliver aid.

First civilians evacuated

The U.N.-led operation to help civilians wishing to leave the Old CIty of Homs started Friday with the evacuation of 83 women, children and elderly civilians after an agreement between the government and opposition groups for a cease-fire that was also intended to allow humanitarian aid to reach the city on Saturday.

Before this weekend’s evacuations, as many as 2,500 people were thought to be trapped in the Old City of Homs, parts of which have been under siege since June 2012.

A video posted Saturday to YouTube showed more than a dozen civilians carrying bundles as they walked between four U.N. vehicles — two on each side — in an apparent attempt to avoid being shot. It was not clear whether they reached their destination.

The killing flared anew Saturday across the nation, with more than 80 people killed, 10 of them children and six women, the Local Coordination Committees of Syria reported. Five of the deaths occurred in Homs, it said.

Nearly half of the deaths — 41 — occurred in Aleppo, where video shot by an opposition activist and posted to YouTube showed the graphic aftermath of what the poster said was a barrel-bomb attack carried out by government helicopters: buildings with their faces blown off, bodies with their limbs blown off and cars ablaze.

Barrel bombs are drums packed with explosives and shrapnel.

“Each and every barrel bomb filled with metal shrapnel and fuel launched against innocent Syrians underscores the barbarity of a regime that has turned its country into a super magnet for terror,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said last week in a statement after another reported barrel-bomb attack on the northern city, which has become a flashpoint in the war.

By Mohammed Tawfeeq and Steve Almasy


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