TGR | 20 February 2014 |
Joined evacuation efforts by the UN and Syrian Arab Red Crescent (ICRC) began in the besieged city of Homs on 7 February 2014. The Geneva II talks continued in their effort to bring peace to a country that had known nothing but conflict for more than 1,000 days. The violence has resulted in 130,000 dead, injured over half a million, and led to 6 million refugees fleeing.
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, living on “leaves, grass, olives and whatever else they could find.”
The evacuations were supposed to be clear-cut and uncomplicated. However, immediately teams were 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 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. The Syrian government has been determined to starve their people to death.
“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, all sides of the conflict – the Assad government, military, and armed oppositions – bear the blame for the rejection of aid to the people of Syria. Both sides have disallowed humanitarian aid and supplies to the people, as well as refused to allow women, children, and the elderly to leave.
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.
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 who serve as collateral damage between the government’s military forces and the opposition.
Photo Credit: Syria by World Humanitarian Summit – Licensed under CC 2.0