Homs - Syria's Red Crescent was on standby on Wednesday to resume evacuating civilians from besieged neighbourhoods of central Homs city, after operations were suspended for a day over “logistical difficulties”.
Red Crescent head of operations Khaled Erksoussi said his teams were waiting for the conclusion of a daily meeting between the United Nations and Homs's governor, Talal Barazi.
“We are expecting that we'll be able to get some more food material in and hoping to get some more people out,” he told AFP.
Since a UN-mediated deal put in place on Friday, the Red Crescent and UN agencies have been evacuating civilians from parts of besieged Homs and delivering aid to those staying behind.
Between Friday and Monday, just over 1 150 people were evacuated, and the World Food Programme delivered enough food for another 1 550 families into the besieged neighbourhoods.
The operation has been welcomed internationally and is providing desperately needed relief for the estimated 3 000 people trapped in rebel-held areas of the city for more than 18 months.
“There are children there, and this is very heartbreaking, that this is the first time they see a banana,” Erksoussi said of those being evacuated.
“Our psychological support teams are there to try to deal with the cases as they come out, but eventually the teams themselves will need psychological care because the situation is very emotional and passionate.”
The operations have been made possible by a tenuous ceasefire that began on Friday and was extended for another three days on Wednesday.
However, it has been broken several times, with shelling killing 14 people and aid crews also coming under fire.
Operations were suspended on Tuesday after lengthy talks between the UN representative on the ground and the Homs governor failed to reach agreement on a logistical plan.
Erksoussi said there were particular difficulties finding a safe route out for a group of families in the Bustan al-Diwan district of the city.
“They are about 28 families. Most of them are Christians,” he said.
“They want to get out but there is no road from where they are to the exit point, so we are pressuring the UN to put on pressure to provide a route for them to get to the exit point.”
He said the security situation was significantly worse than in other humanitarian operations undertaken by the Red Crescent, with multiple shooting incidents at an exit point for the area.
“The Hamidiya exit point is particularly problematic. There are groups there, whether from one side or the other, who don't want the operation to go smoothly,” Erksoussi said.
But he added that his teams were nonetheless eager to resume operations as soon as possible.
“Already what we were promised we could deliver in terms of aid, which was 500 food parcels, we have only been able to deliver half of that,” he said.
“We will use any chance we get to get in and deliver aid and help people to leave because we believe this chance won't come again.” - AFP