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Two missing Germans in Syria found and heading home

Two members of a German aid group who went missing in Syria are alive and well, and on their way home, the Foreign Ministry has announced. The fate of a missing third person is unknown.

The Grünhelme (Green Helmets) aid organization said last weekend that three of its members were missing and were believed to have been kidnapped. It said they were taken by unknown persons on May 14, from the town of Harem in Syria's Idlib district.

They were identified as Bernd Blechschmidt, Simon Sauer and Ziad Nouri.

On Friday evening, a spokesman for the German foreign ministry announced that two of the three had been found, but declined to confirm their identity.

"Two people of German nationality who were reported missing in Syria are currently on their way to Germany," the spokesman said, adding that "they are doing well."

The Grünhelme vice president, Aiman Mazyek, wrote on Twitter: "Bernd and Simon are free. The third, Ziad Nouri, not yet. Pray for him."

The ministry said it was trying to determine the whereabouts of the missing third person, understood to be a 72-year-old engineer.

"The crisis cell is working hard to clear up the disappearance of another German citizen reported missing in Syria," said the spokesman.

Grünhelme helps to reconstruct schools and medical facilities in crisis areas. It has been in northern Syria for several months to administer healthcare and help rebuild local infrastructure.

Homs ravaged

The United Nations says Syrian government forces increased their shelling of the central city of Homs on Friday. It has expressed concern for up to 4,000 civilians caught in the battle for Homs Old City.

Homs is the focus of a push by Assad's forces to complete the seizure of a swathe of territory between Damascus and Syria's Mediterranean coast.

A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, said the Khalidiyeh neighborhood of Homs was shelled heavily early on Friday.

"Although the total number of casualties remains unknown, the number of civilians currently trapped due [to] the heavy fighting in and around Homs is believed to be between 2,500 and 4,000 people," said Colville.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon called for the trapped civilians to be let out, but efforts at the UN Security Council to follow through with his appeal failed. The Council was unable to agree on a statement calling on the Syrian government to give up access to the trapped civilians.

Diplomats said that Russia, Syria's main ally, held up versions of the statement that had been under negotiation all week.

jr/jm (AFP, AP, Reuters)