By Lara Kajs
Joined evacuation efforts by the UN and Syrian Arab Red Crescent began in the besieged city of Homs on 7 February 2014.
As the Geneva II talks attempt to bring peace to a country that has known anything but peace for more than 1000 days, the civil war continues which has resulted in 130,000 dead, injured over a half million and led to six million refugees fleeing.
Getting Aid to the People
The World Food Programme – one of the groups providing supplies reported that many of the evacuees, especially some of Syria’s most vulnerable persons appeared to be severely malnourished. Elisabeth Byrs of the WFP said that many of the people had been living on “leaves, grass, olives and whatever else they could find.”The evacuations were supposed to be clear-cut and uncomplicated. However, immediately the endeavor was met with resistance and brought to a halt as convoys came under heavy fire and bombardments, in spite of a planned humanitarian cease-fire.
The Evacuation of Homs
The Homs Deal made it possible for women, children (under 15) and elderly men (over 55 years of age), to leave, and for humanitarian aid to be given to the people remaining in the city, which has been isolated by al-Assad’s forces. It is important to note that up to this point, no humanitarian aid had been allowed into Homs since the conflict began nearly three years ago, according to information from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.
“Landmark Agreement” or Denying Obligation?
While Russia praised the Homs Deal as a “landmark agreement”, others took a very different opinion pointing out that it is Syria’s responsibility and obligation to allow aid to the innocent civilians who are victims of the conflict. In short, it should not take an international agreement to allow aid to the citizens of Syria. However, the rejection of aid to the people of Syria does not rest solely on al-Assad’s shoulders as there are reports that some of the armed opposition forces have also disallowed humanitarian aid and supplies to the people, as well as refused to allow women and children to leave.
Violating the Cease-fire
At one point during evacuations, the buses were fired upon. One man was wounded in the gunfire and although he blamed al-Assad’s forces, the government claims that it is the armed opposition that has been targeting humanitarian groups. By the end of the first day of evacuations, the UN confirmed that 83 people had been transported from the city to reception centers where they received medical attention and aid, after which time they were free to go wherever they wanted.
What Happens Next?
As the Geneva II peace talks continue, many leaders are pressing for President Bashar al-Assad to step aside, but that idea has been rejected outright by the regime. In contrast, the Assad government claims that the violent conflict that has destroyed the country is a result of “terrorism” conducted by the armed opposition and that it must be put to an end. However, there is no disputing that the real victims here are the millions of people that serve as collateral damage between the government’s military forces and opposition.