Syrian civilians sit with their belongings next to rebel fighters in a street of Homs on February 11, 2014
Syrian civilians sit with their belongings next to rebel fighters in a street of Homs on February 11, 2014 © Bassel Tawil - AFP/File
Syrian civilians sit with their belongings next to rebel fighters in a street of Homs on February 11, 2014
AFP
Last updated: February 12, 2014

More than 200 civilians evacuated from Syria's Homs

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More than 200 civilians were evacuated Wednesday from besieged rebel-held districts in the heart of Syria's third largest city Homs, governor Talal al-Barazi told AFP.

"Two hundred and seventeen civilians have been evacuated today from Homs Old City. The operation went well and smoothly," Barazi said.

The latest evacuations bring the total number of people given safe passage out of the war-ravaged districts to more than 1,400 since Friday.

Aid workers also distributed 4,700 kilogrammes of flour and 190 food parcels in the besieged districts Wednesday, according to the Syrian Red Crescent's Khaled Erksoussi.

Some 3,000 people had been trapped by an army siege of a handful of rebel-held areas in the heart of Homs since June 2012, surviving for months on little more than olives and wild plants.

A humanitarian operation under UN auspices for the evacuation of civilians and distribution of aid was suspended Tuesday because of "logistical" difficulties, Barazi said.

The governor meanwhile said 111 men who had been detained for questioning as they left the besieged districts have now been released.

He said authorities are still holding 34 others whose "status is being examined."

The United Nations had said the authorities detained 336 boys and men aged between 15 and 55, and that only 42 had been set free.

The deal between rebels and the regime allowing the evacuation made no mention of whether military-age men could leave.

In a statement on Tuesday, the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights said it is "essential" that boys and men in detention "do not come to any harm."

It added that "there must not be an assumption that those who remain in Old Homs and other besieged areas are all combatants."

According to Yazan, an activist who asked that his full name not be published for fear of retribution, among Wednesday's evacuees were some 30 Christians.

Earlier, Erksoussi had said there were particular difficulties finding a safe route out for a group of 28 families, mostly Christians, in the Bustan al-Diwan district.

Activists say people moving from the Old City towards the evacuation point must go through tunnels built by the rebels to avoid government snipers.

Yazan said many Christians who remained are elderly, and that those able to make it through the tunnels have crossed over. There are attempts at negotiating a new exit point to make it easier for the elderly to leave, he added.

Governor Barazi said a possible further extension of the truce would be discussed later on Wednesday.

The humanitarian operation has been made possible by a ceasefire from 6:00 am (0400 GMT) to 6:00 pm that began Friday but has been broken on a few occasions, with the convoy coming under fire and 14 people killed by shelling.

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