Middle East

Aid Workers Continue Efforts To Reach Besieged Syrian City

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Humanitarian workers continue to try to evacuate civilians from the besieged Syrian city of Homs as negotiators in Geneva prepare for the next round of peace talks. NPR's Rachel Martin gets the latest from reporter Alice Fordham in Geneva.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. We're going to begin this hour in Syria, where aid teams have now evacuated hundreds of residents from the city of Homs. This weekend, several aid workers were injured when they first tried to enter the rebel-controlled part of the city. Today, they returned to Homs, even as the gunfire continued. NPR's Alice Fordham covers the Syrian conflict. She joins us now on the line. Alice, what are hearing about what aid workers have been able to do in Homs?

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: Right. Well, as you say, they were able to go back today. And they continued to be under fire. The security situation there is not perfect. But the governor of Homs told the Syrian Arab News Agency that 611 civilians have been evacuated. That would represent a significant chunk of the number of people who live in that part of Homs. And it was stood up by videos that we saw of families just streaming out of these shattered neighborhoods, clutching capes and suitcases and picking their way over broken-down barriers, just running towards these white U.N. SUVs that have come to pick them up.

MARTIN: What about the residents who are not evacuated, those left behind? What are the current conditions, what can they expect to happen?

FORDHAM: Well, it's difficult to corroborate, but conditions in there we think are pretty horrible. And they've been there for two years now. They used to find food by scavenging abandoned houses and by smuggling things in through tunnels. The supplies have run out and the army has bombed the tunnels. So, people say that they are starving, so the people that are left behind do face a bleak situation.

MARTIN: And I suppose it's unclear as to whether or not there will be future convoys to help evacuation.

FORDHAM: At this point, I think that the initial plan was there to be a three day evacuation program and plans to get aid in there, and food and medicine. But I think things here just do hang in the balance as we monitor the security situation.

MARTIN: So, Alice, both sides, the government and the rebels, have been blaming each other for breaking the cease-fire in Homs. You're in Geneva for the Syrian peace talks that continue tomorrow. How is this recent development likely to affect those negotiations?

FORDHAM: Well, I think that they were hoping that this would be a confidence-building measure between the two sides; a sort of a quick fix, something that everyone could agree that would happen. Actually, what's happened is it has taken agonizing weeks to come up with this deal, and the execution has been very far from perfect. So I don't thing it's gone a huge way towards bridging the gap between the people that might meet across the table tomorrow.

MARTIN: NPR's Alice Fordham, covering the Syrian peace negotiations in Geneva. Alice, thanks so much.

FORDHAM: Thanks for having me.

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