The governor of Homs says a ceasefire has been extended for three days to allow for the evacuation of residents. In Geneva, a standoff between Russia and other world powers have left Syria's peace talks in a deadlock.
On Thursday in the key battleground city of Homs, Governor Talal Barrazi said authorities would extend a truce to Saturday as long as people wanted to leave rebel-held areas besieged by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. About 1,400 people have evacuated from the city in central Syria since Friday, when theceasefire went into effect.
The ceasefire had expired on Wednesday night. The break in fighting had represented an early achievement of the peace talks in Geneva, which began their first round on January 22.
The government has detained for questioning about 220 of the men who have left Homs. Though women and children have freely left, the government considers men and youths between 15 and 55 of fighting age. A US State Department spokesman said on Wednesday that the government had pledged to release the men after screening them.
In Geneva, mediator Lakhdar Brahimi met senior Russian and US diplomats, in the hopes that the co-sponsors of the 3-week-old process could salvage the second round of negotiations, which sometimes appear in danger of collapse. The initial round had wrapped up at the end of January. Getting the two sides in Syria's civil war into the same room had been considered an accomplishment at the time.
US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov will also likely meet Syrian negotiators during their time in Geneva. International diplomats and Syrian opposition delegates have complained that President Bashar al-Assad's government has refused to discuss proposals for a transition of power and expressed hope that Russia would push it to do so.
"What we have seen so far is that the regime is not serious," the opposition delegate Anas al-Abdah said Thursday. "The sooner the Russians can put enough pressure on the Syrian regime side, the better. And they are positioned to do that."
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Wednesday that more people have died since the start of peace talks on January 22 than during any other comparable period during the war. According to the Observatory's own figures, on average 236 people have died daily during the three weeks. The activist agency also announced that overall at least 4,959 people have died in Syria in the period since the government and opposition delegates first sat down in Geneva.
Security Council action?
On Wednesday, Russia had presented a UN Security Council resolution aimed at addressing the humanitarian emergency in Syria.
International leaders allied with the Syrian opposition have criticized the country's persistent support of the Assad regime during the civil war. Russia has used its veto power as a permanent Security Council member several times in order to prevent international action against the Syrian government.
As delegations from Assad's government and the opposition fail repeatedly to make progress in peace negotiations, Syrians remain trapped in besieged cities. Civilians across the war-torn country face widespread food and medicine shortages.
The conflict, which began as a series of peaceful protests against the government in March 2011, has led to the internal displacement of millions of people, and 2 million more have fled into neighboring countries. More than 130,000 people have died in the conflict, activists say.
mkg/hc (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)