As new truce in Homs seems possible, Geneva II resumes
by Paul Dakiki
About 600 people have been evacuated from the besieged Old City. After delivering water and food, UN and Red Cross buses leave with refugees. Despite shelling, humanitarian workers continue their work. Discussions on ways to end the violence, set up a transitional government, and achieve national reconciliation are back on track in Geneva II. However, rebel in-fighting, clashes and government shelling escalate.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - A new truce is about to come into effect in Homs to allow the evacuation of more residents from the Old City, which has been under siege for almost two years. In fact, the city's governor and UN officials reached an understanding over the weekend to extend a three-day truce. Meanwhile, the Syrian government and the opposition resume talks in Geneva.

Although the first round of talks ended in late January with little progress, UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi was confident that the two sides were a bit closer than before. Talks had focused on setting up humanitarian corridors in various parts of Syria to help civilians, but no final decision was reached.

Next month, Syria's civil war will enter its fourth year. So far, more than 130,000 people have died. An additional 9.5 million have been displaced internally or forced to cross into neighbouring countries.

In Homs, the United Nations and the Syrian government agreed to a three-day truce, which the rebels respected.

Buses were able to enter the besieged area, deliver food and medicine for residents, and pick up families who wanted to get out, especially women and children. Some men, described as "rebels" were detained and booked, but were released after a few hours.

Although the truce was broken by shelling and gunfire, which the two sides blamed on each other, humanitarian workers were able to continue their work.

On the first day, 7 February, the United Nations and the Red Cross were able to bring out only 83 people. The next day, shelling interrupted the evacuation. Yesterday, 480 people, mostly women, children and old people, left the Old City (pictured).

Beirut-based Al Mayadeen TV showed the hungry and emaciated faces of the people leaving the Old City.

Today in Geneva, the Syrian regime, rebels and the UN mediator are back trying to find a path to peace for the country and its people.

The aims of the new round of talks is to stop the violence, establish a transitional government, and promote reconciliation.

However, the Syrian government insists that "terrorist groups" not be a party to the talks, whilst rebels want to exclude Bashar al-Assad from any final settlement.

According to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, rebel in-fighting, clashes with President Assad's forces and government bombardments have escalated across Syria since the delegates held their first face-to-face meeting.