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UN-led aid mission in Syria's Homs delayed by mortar fire

UN-led missions to bring humanitarian aid to civilians in the Syrian city of Homs under a ceasefire have come under attack. Opposing sides have blamed each other for the incident.

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Truce breaks down in Homs

Several mortars were fired in the central city of Homs on Saturday, delaying aid convoys waiting to bring supplies to trapped civilians, according to activist groups and pro-government media.

Tweets from the Syrian Red Crescent's Twitter account confirmed their team was "shelled and fired upon," but were able to leave the city eventually. The tweets said one truck driver had suffered a minor injury, while two trucks were damaged and abandoned.

Syrian state television initially said four members of the Red Crescent were wounded after coming under fire from "armed terrorist groups." Syrian authorities describe all armed opposition against President Bashar al-Assad as terrorism.

State television quoted Homs governor Talal al-Barazi as saying that two cars carrying aid supplies had entered the rebel-held Old City, but that rebels had used mortar fire to prevent any more vehicles from entering.

Rebels in Homs blamed forces loyal to al-Assad for firing the mortars in violation of a three-day truce that started on Friday to allow aid operations to be carried out in the city.

Trucks have been waiting to deliver three tons of food, water and medicine to people trapped in Homs.

Homs, which was one of the first Syrian cities to rise up against Assad in the country's three-year conflict, has been particularly hard hit by the war. Most of the city has been retaken by the government, but a few neighborhoods in the historic center are still holding out against pro-government forces.

'Malnourished civilians'

Pro-Assad forces have prevented the entry of food and medical aid into the rebel-held districts for more than a year, badly affecting civilians trapped there.

On Friday, 83

children, women and elderly people were evacuated from Homs,

the UN said. Aid workers said some of them showed signs of malnutrition.

The ceasefire agreement to allow aid supplies to enter the city and some evacuations

was reached after talks last month in Switzerland

between the warring parties. Representatives of the two sides are expected to meet again on February 10.

In more violence in Syria on Saturday, activists said military aircraft had dropped barrel bombs on rebel-held areas in the northern city of Aleppo, killing at least 15. Government forces have been attacking rebel strongholds in the city for weeks in a bid to wrest control from the insurgents.

Barrel bombs are cylinders packed with explosives and shrapnel and are usually dropped from helicopters. They cannot be aimed precisely and are thought to have killed hundreds of civilians during Syria's conflict.

tj/ph (AP, Reuters)

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