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'Hundreds evacuated' from Syria's Homs as aid operation resumes

A joint UN-Red Crescent humanitarian operation has resumed in the central Syrian city of Homs, a day after an aid convoy came under fire there. Officials said several hundred people were evacuated.

Aid workers resumed humanitarian operations in Homs on Sunday despite continued gunfire, after a

delay on Saturday

when trucks carrying food and medical supplies came under mortar fire.

Homs governor Talal Barrazi told regional Arab television channel Al Mayadeen that more than 600 people were evacuated from the rebel-held Old City. He said more supplies were also delivered to an estimated 2,500 civilians trapped by a year-and-a-half-long siege.

The number of evacuees has not been independently verified.

State television said gunfire was heard around rebel-held areas as the aid workers were helping women, children and elderly men to leave.

Barrazi said that some of those who came out were men of fighting age who were not originally eligible to leave but had agreed to hand themselves over to authorities.

A further 83 people were brought to safety on Friday.

The operations are taking place under a UN-brokered three-day truce to allow aid workers to gain access to embattled neighborhoods in Homs, where rebels are holding out against forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Barrazi and Red Crescent officials said they were working to extend the truce, which began on Friday.

Mutual accusations

Government authorities and rebels have traded accusations as to who was responsible for the truce-breaking attacks that stranded a UN-Red Crescent team in the city center for several hours after dark on Saturday. The Red Crescent said one of its drivers was lightly wounded, but that all others managed to leave central Homs safely.

Homs was one of the first areas to rise up against Assad in 2011, and has been particularly hard hit by the country's almost three-year civil war. The government has now regained control of most of the city, but a few districts in its historic center remain in rebel hands.

The deal struck to provide Homs with humanitarian aid was the first concrete target set at the

"Geneva II" peace talks

which began two weeks ago. Although an agreement was not reached during the negotiations in Switzerland,

a ceasefire deal was brokered in the aftermath.

The "Geneva II" talks will resume on Monday, with the UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, again leading the negotiations.

Government bombardment

The talks are taking place as government helicopters continue a weeks-long bombardment of rebel-held districts in the northern city of Aleppo. Activists say a number of civilians were killed by barrel bombs in attacks on Sunday.

Barrel bombs are containers packed with explosives that are usually dropped from helicopters. As they cannot be aimed precisely, they have caused hundreds of civilian deaths in the Syrian conflict.

More than 136,000 people are thought to have been killed since fighting began in the conflict.

tj/dr (Reuters, AP)

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