Civilians stand along a street amid garbage and rubble of
damaged buildings in the besieged area of Homs.
REUTERS/Thaer Al Khalidiya
The fate of a UN aid convoy for thousands of Syrians
besieged in the city of Homs hung in the balance as the Syrian
government demanded assurances the supplies would not end up in
the hands of "terrorists".
Damascus describes all armed opponents of President Bashar
al-Assad's government as terrorists.
Efforts to get food and medical aid into Homs have become a
test case on whether peace talks in Switzerland can produce
any practical results almost three years into the Syrian
The United Nations said it was ready to deliver relief
supplies to about 2,500 people trapped inside rebel-held
parts of Homs, devastated by months of shelling and fighting.
But the government said it first wanted to know who would get
"We are still waiting for assurances that these convoys will
not go to armed groups, to terrorist groups inside the city.
We want them to go to the women and children," Syrian Deputy
Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told reporters.
He said the UN resident coordinator in Damascus, Yacoub al
Helou, was shuttling between the two sides.
"The convoy is ready and still waiting to enter, the
authorisation has not yet been given. We haven't given up on
that," mediator Lakhdar Brahimi told a news briefing.
A UN source in Homs said by telephone he did not know when
the convoy would roll, adding: "I don't think it will be
decided in Homs but at the Damascus level with the UN It
could be tomorrow or the day after."
An afternoon session in the Geneva peace talks was cancelled,
the opposition delegation said, citing differences over the
goal of the negotiations.
Light arms supplied by the United States are flowing to
"moderate" Syrian rebel factions in the south, and Congress
has approved funding for months of further deliveries,
according U.S. and European security officials.
Brahimi, asked about the resumption of weapons supplies,
said: "The delegation of the (Syrian) government spoke at
length and condemned it in strongest terms."
Opposition delegate Murhaf Jouejati said UN agencies and the
International Committee of the Red Cross had all the needed
guarantees from anti-government forces for the aid convoy to
move into Homs, blaming the government for holding it up.
Families in Syria's third biggest city are a small fraction
of the quarter of a million Syrians who are living under
siege in the country, according to UN estimates.
Opposition activists living in Homs' Old City posted a letter
on social media saying that unless the army siege was fully
broken, all other measures would be superficial.
"We assure you and the world that the demands of the besieged
are not limited to humanitarian aid," the letter said, adding
that dozens of medical cases were awaiting surgery.
It called for "secure safe corridors to enter and exit (Homs)
for those who want to, without their having to go through
regime checkpoints that surround the besieged area".
The UN World Food Programme wants to deliver 500 family
rations and 100 boxes of "Plumpy'Doz", a specialised
nutrition product that helps to treat children suffering from
acute malnutrition, spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said.
The UN Children's Fund, UNICEF, has sent the Syrian
government a list of medical supplies it wants to send to
civilians trapped in the Old City, just 10 km (six miles)
from its warehouse, but was still awaiting a green light.
The World Health Organisation was also preparing medical
supplies for the UN convoy to Homs, officials said.
A binding UN Security Council resolution could formally
oblige the authorities to let aid agencies into besieged
areas. But divisions between Western powers, backing the
rebels, and Russia, an ally of Assad, have paralysed the
world body over Syria since the conflict began in 2011.
The government has encircled hundreds of thousands of people
across Syria, blocking off food and medicine. Rebels have
also besieged 45,000 people in two Shi'ite Muslim towns in
The Syrian opposition is willing to lift a siege on three
pro-government villages in the north as part of a wider deal
to relieve besieged towns on both sides, its spokesman said.
Edgar Vasquez, a U.S. State Department spokesman, accused the
Syrian government of poisoning the atmosphere of peace
negotiations with the opposition by denying aid deliveries.
"Demanding opposition forces leave an area or put down their
weapons before allowing the delivery of food and other much
needed humanitarian assistance does not constitute an
acceptable offer of humanitarian access," he said.