U.N. Concerned for Syrian Civilians Trapped in Homs

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Members of the U.N. Security Council expressed what they called grave concern Thursday over the plight of Syrian civilians caught in fighting in the old quarter of Homs in Syria, the council’s president said.

The body “urged the immediate implementation” of a February resolution to improve humanitarian access in the country, said Joy Ogwu, Nigeria’s ambassador, who is serving as the council’s current president.

She said council members also stand behind a call made by U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi earlier in the day to resume negotiations to end the siege.

Syrian troops and pro-regime militiamen fought their way into rebel-held neighborhoods of the central city of Homs on Tuesday after besieging them for nearly two years.

On Thursday, Security Council members held three hours of consultations after U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos outlined the situation in Homs.

“Civilians trapped are in real danger of being killed in the latest assault by the Syrian regime on Homs,” said Britain’s U.N. ambassador Mark Lyall Grant.

He added that France and Britain had proposed a draft formal declaration by the council to call for Syrian government forces to lift the siege, but the council had failed to adopt it.

French ambassador Gerard Araud said that Russia, the key ally of Damascus, blocked the draft statement, despite Moscow’s support for the February resolution which called for the lifting of sieges in multiple cities including Homs.

In a statement, American ambassador Samantha Power appealed “to all those U.N. member states with influence on Damascus to pressure the regime to return to the negotiating table.”

“It is imperative that those who want to leave Homs are able to do so quickly and safely,” she added.

Syrian ambassador Bachar Jaafari told reporters that only 170 civilians were trapped in Homs, alongside thousands of terrorists — the regime’s term for rebels. He said the civilians refused to leave.

Brahimi said Syria’s government and opposition groups should resume talks to lift the siege on Homs.

“We urge all the parties to return to the negotiating table and complete the deal which was on the verge of being signed,” he said.

He added that the discussions had been well underway between the Syrian government and “a negotiating committee representing the civilians and fighters still trapped in the Old city of Homs as well as the inhabitants of the Al-Waer neighborhood.”

“It is a matter of deep regret that negotiations were brutally stopped and violence is now rife again when a comprehensive agreement seemed close at hand,” Brahimi added.

Homs is Syria’s third city, and activists have long referred to it as the “capital of the revolution” because of the huge pro-democracy protests held there when the uprising began in March 2011.

Most of the central city is now under regime control. Rebel-held pockets have been under a siege for nearly two years, leading to dwindling food and medical supplies.

According to rebel groups, around 1,300 people, mainly combatants, are still trapped inside army-besieged neighborhoods, after around 1,400 civilians were evacuated at the beginning of the year.

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