Syria's government has struck a deal with the UN to allow the evacuation of hundreds of civilians from the besieged city of Homs, according to state TV. The government also agreed with rebels to provide aid to the area.
Syrian state TV's report on Thursday quoted Homs Governor Tala Barrazi as saying the evacuation would take place "very soon," but provided no further detail.
Homs, Syria's third-largest city, has undergone severe hardship during Syria's nearly three-year civil war. Though Homs is largely under control of President Bashar al-Assad's forces, the rebels occupy the Old City, which has been suffering from the effects of government siege and blockade for more than a year.
The central city was a key topic during last month's weeklong peace talks in Geneva between the government and Western-backed rebels. However, the negotiations had failed to reach an agreement over how to supply aid to those in Homs who needed it.
Aid deal now reached
In addition to the UN deal, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced on Thursday that the Syrian government and rebel forces had come to an agreement to let humanitarian aid into rebel-controlled areas of Homs.
"The issue of delivering humanitarian aid to the old districts of Homs is now being solved," ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told reporters, as quoted by Russian news agencies. "According to the latest information, the government and the opposition have reached such agreement. It's quite a positive signal."
The UN welcomed the deal and said aid was ready to be dispersed. The organization also confirmed it was not involved in striking the agreement and had been waiting for permission from the government and rebels.
"The United Nations and humanitarian partners had pre-positioned food, medical and other basic supplies on the outskirts of Homs ready for immediate delivery as soon as the
green light was given by the parties for safe passage," U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said in a statement.
Estimates range from 1,000 to 3,000 for the number of civilians currently stuck in the old quarter of Homs.
UN rights observers in Geneva have accused both rebel and government forces of committing crimes against humanity during Syria's civil war, including systematically denying noncombatants access to food, water, housing and medical care.
A second round of Syrian peace talks is scheduled to begin February 10 in Geneva.
dr/mkg (AP, dpa, Reuters)