, Damascus Febuary 11- Aid teams launched fresh efforts on Tuesday to evacuate civilians from besieged districts of Syria’s Homs, as the regime and opposition held their first joint session at a second round of peace talks.
The Syrian Red Crescent has so far helped evacuate around 1,200 people trapped in rebel held areas of the war ravaged central city, and delivered desperately needed food and medicine.
The operations are scheduled to continue at least through Wednesday after an initial three day truce that began Friday was extended by another 72 hours.
In Geneva, meanwhile, the Syrian regime and opposition sat down for their first face to face talks this month at a session chaired by UN Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi.
The second round of peace talks began Monday, with expectations low and the opposition warning it might not attend a third round of talks if no progress is made.
UN and Red Crescent teams evacuated 473 people from Homs on Monday, many of whom have spent more than 18 months trapped with dwindling food and medical supplies.
They streamed out of streets strewn with rubble and bookmarked by half collapsed buildings, towards the vehicles waiting to extract them from the city.
Operations to evacuate some of the estimated 3,000 people trapped in the Old City of Homs and deliver aid to those staying behind began on Friday.
The work was made possible by a tenuous three day truce, which was extended for another 72 hours on Monday despite multiple violations, including shelling that killed 14 people and fire directed at aid convoys.
On Tuesday, a Red Crescent official said teams were preparing to resume evacuations and aid delivery.
“Civilians will be evacuated from Homs for a fifth consecutive day. A morning meeting was held with Homs governor Talal Barazi and the UN,” he said.
“We are trying to reach families in the Bustan al Diwan, where there are logistical obstacles,” he added, without providing details.
New calls for aid access
Monday’s operations did not include food delivery, but the World Food Programme said it had managed to deliver 310 family rations enough to feed 1,550 people for a month between Friday and Sunday.
It has also delivered 1.5 metric tonnes of wheat into Homs, where residents have said they survived for months on a diet of olives and grass.
The WFP also handed out food to those escaping, including specialised nutrition products for hundreds of children.
Wide-eyed residents, some toting backpacks, accepted food from volunteers and were led to shelters.
The Red Crescent posted pictures on its Facebook page of a party that was later organised for a group of children, their faces lit up with smiles as they played with green, grey and pink balloons.
The humanitarian operation has been welcomed internationally, while UN officials and agencies have urged that the model be extended to other areas in Syria.
“I hope that those negotiating in Geneva agree to allow the sustained delivery of aid to the 250,000 people in besieged communities in Syria and all those who are in desperate need across Syria,” said UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos.
But the tone at Geneva has so far kept expectations of a breakthrough low.
“If there is no progress at all, I think it would be a waste of time to think about a third round,” opposition spokesman Louay Safi told reporters Monday.
Despite the tone, the two sides did agree to participate in a Tuesday joint session chaired by Brahimi, who spent Monday shuttling between the delegations.
The two sides still disagree fundamentally on the purpose of the discussions, with the regime insisting they must be used to condemn “terrorism” in Syria, and the opposition seeking to discuss a transitional government and President Bashar al Assad’s departure from office.
More than 136,000 people have been killed since the conflict in Syria began in March 2011, and some 2.4 million Syrians have become refugees.