Syria to allow women, children to leave besieged parts

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Syria to allow women, children to leave besieged parts (AFP) / 27 January 2014 UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi says other civilians are also welcome to leave, but the government needs a list of their names first.  The Syrian regime has agreed to allow women and children to leave besieged rebel-held areas of the central city of Homs, UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said on Sunday at peace talks in Geneva. “What we have been told by the government side is that women and children in this besieged area of the city are welcome to leave immediately,” Brahimi told reporters. “Hopefully starting tomorrow, women and children will be able to leave the Old City in Homs.” He said that as well as women and children, “other civilians are also welcome to leave, but the government needs a list of their names first”. The subject of Homs — where hundreds of families in the Old City are living under siege with near-daily shelling and the barest of supplies — has been discussed at length since the two parties started face-to-face talks on Saturday. Brahimi said talks also touched on continued efforts to have convoys of humanitarian aid brought into Homs, with rebel fighters pledging not to attack them. Speaking separately, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad confirmed that women and children would be allowed to leave but blamed rebel forces for preventing that. “I have been personally involved over the past two years to get these women and children out of the Old City of Homs. But we could not. In all these attempts we have been prevented by the armed groups, who did not allow a single person out,” Muqdad told reporters. Brahimi admitted the talks were progressing slowly but said he was pleased with the atmosphere. “I am happy, because in general there is mutual respect and they are aware of the fact that this attempt is important and we must continue. I hope that this mood will continue,” he said. Sunday’s talks also touched on the thousands of people jailed, kidnapped or missing in Syria. Brahimi said the opposition agreed to try to draw up a list of people held by rebel forces they control or have contact with, to hand over to the regime and move the process of prisoner exchanges forward. Muqdad brushed off questions about a list of 47,000 people, including 2,300 women and children, allegedly held by the regime. “It is not as big as you described. More than 60 or 70 per cent of the people have never entered any prison, 20 percent were released, and the rest haven’t been in a prison,” he said. “I deny categorically that there are any children being detained,” Muqdad said. He accused the rebels of press-ganging children and said any youngsters captured by government forces were cared for, not jailed. The opposition has called for the talks on Monday to move to the core issue of political transition. “This is a political negotiation, everything we discuss is political,” Brahimi said. “I think tomorrow I expect the two parties to make some general statement about the way forward.” Muqdad said the government had come to Geneva “very seriously and in all sincerity”, but struck a note of caution. “When we say we are ready to discuss everything, this does not mean that the opposition will have our full approval of what they want, or that we shall have their full approval of what we want,” he said. For more news from Khaleej Times, follow us on Facebook at , and on Twitter at @khaleejtimes Continue reading →

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