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Homs Deal Marred by Continued Hostilities and Sieges in Syria

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 9 2014 (IPS) - On Feb 6, 2014, an agreement was reached between the two sides to the Syrian conflict to allow humanitarian supplies to enter the Old City of Homs and permit approximately 2,500 besieged civilians to leave. While the deal has successfully permitted a reported 600 civilians to exit the besieged area, aid operations have also been complicated by direct attacks from hostile combatants on February 8 and 9. The tense situation in Homs serves as a reminder that within Syria there are an estimated 9.3 million people in need of urgent humanitarian aid, roughly 250,000 of them under siege, according to the United Nations.

“I am deeply disappointed that the three-day humanitarian pause agreed between the parties to the conflict was broken today (Feb 8, 2014) and aid workers deliberately targeted,” said Valerie Amos, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, in a statement released Saturday. Amos also highlighted the need to extend access to the other parts of Syria that have not received aid for months.

In many areas, like Homs, UN trucks sit on standby, waiting for a political deal that will permit them to bring aid to civilians in dire need.  “Another horror of the war in Syria is becoming apparent,” stated the U.N. Human Rights Office (OHCHR), “the deprivation of basic necessities of life and the denial of humanitarian relief.”

“The acts being committed amount to crimes against humanity, carried out as a deliberate and systematic effort to cause civilian suffering. They also constitute war crimes and serious violations of customary international humanitarian law which binds all parties,” said an independent group of experts appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council.

“The United Nations and our humanitarian partners will not be deterred from doing the best we can to bring aid to those needing our help,” asserted Amos. But the recent attacks on aid workers also serve as a “stark reminder of the dangers that civilians and aid workers face every day across Syria.”

Areas of Syria in dire need of assistance include — Nubul and Al-Zahraa in rural Aleppo, Eastern Ghouta, Darayya and Moadamiyah in rural Damascus, the Old City in Homs and Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus.

The permission of aid to the Old City of Homs was a focal topic during Geneva II, a peace conference seeking to end the Syrian conflict that began in March 2011 when peaceful protesters began to call for the removal of President Bashar al-Assad. The conflict has claimed the lives of over 100,000 people and has caused millions to flee their homes.

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