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Evacuation begins for civilians from Syrian city

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The first civilians were evacuated Friday from a rebel-held area of the Syrian city of Homs after more than a year and a half of struggling to survive under a government blockade, a deal that could bolster confidence ahead of a second round of peace talks.

Aid workers said they had heard harrowing stories from just more than 80 people who were evacuated from the besieged Old City — with some recounting how they had been surviving on as little as a spoonful of wheat a day and others saying they had been forced to eat weeds.

A U.N.-brokered agreement for a three-day cease-fire, to allow civilians out and then aid to come in, came just days ahead of the resumption of peace talks in Geneva. The Syrian government said Friday that it would attend.

The first round, which marked the first time the two sides have sat at the negotiating table during the three-year conflict, failed to deliver tangible results.

Western diplomats and aid workers have given the agreement a muted welcome, while urging the Syrian government to allow unfettered humanitarian access.

State TV showed civilians, largely elderly people and women, wrapped in blankets and being ushered onto buses. One evacuee was taken in an ambulance.

The 83 people the United Nations said were evacuated to places of their choosing are a fraction of the 2,500 people it estimates are holed up in Homs' Old City. Humanitarian workers said they handed the evacuees juice, high-energy biscuits and ready-to-eat meals as they left the city.

Only women, children younger than 15 and adults older than 55 were allowed to leave Friday. Syrian state TV reported hundreds more were expected to be evacuated in coming days. A Syrian official said aid would be delivered to those who chose to remain.

Evacuation begins for civilians from Syrian city 02/07/14 [Last modified: Saturday, February 8, 2014 12:19am]
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