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Troubled Cease-Fire In Syria Still Leaves Some Evacuees Dead


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

In Syria, a temporary cease fire has been extended for three more days for the city of Homs. But cease fire is a loose term. Over the weekend, shelling and shooting continued even as humanitarian convoys tried to bring emergency supplies into the besieged city. Eleven people were killed. The U.N. humanitarian chief says relief workers were also deliberately targeted. Since Friday, more than 1,000 civilians have been evacuated from rebel-held areas of Homs. Today was relatively quiet. No one was killed trying to flee the city, but tensions have flared over who is being evacuated and whether they include rebel fighters.

Earlier today, I spoke with Sam Dagher who is in Homs reporting for The Wall Street Journal and he is in Homs. He told me that any of the male evacuees who were of fighting age had to go through government screening before they could be relocated.

SAM DAGHER: The U.N. has actually agreed with the Syrian authorities that anyone between the age 15 and 54 needs to go through some processing with the authorities here. They need to find out if this person is affiliated with the rebels, and whether this person is wanted by the authorities. Apparently they have a list of wanted rebel fighters who, in the opinion of the regime here, have committed crimes and need to be referred to courts. So, the U.N. has agreed to that.

BLOCK: What can you tell us about the emergency supplies, the humanitarian assistance that's been brought in to these besieged parts of Homs? Is that aid getting in and who's able to get it?

DAGHER: The deal that the U.N. had brokered called for people to get out on Friday, which happened - we had about 80-some people. And then on Saturday came the more complicated part of it, where they wanted to take in four trucks of food, medicine and hygiene kits, and other urgently needed supplies. And the U.N. convoys on that day were deliberately attacked with mortars and then snipers and two of them had to come back. So only half of the amount went in. And then what the U.N. tried to do the following day, on Sunday, was take in some supplies in their own armored vehicles. And obviously that was not enough.

BLOCK: Is it clear who is doing the attacking? Are the attacks coming from the Syrian government side or from the rebel-held side?

DAGHER: Well, the U.N. is not laying any blame at the moment. But three people I've spoken to, who were part of that convoy, told me that it was 100 percent the pro-government forces that fired at them based on the assessment by the U.N. security team. But the authorities here dispute that vehemently and they say it was the rebels who fired at the convoys.

They say that there is a dispute among rebel factions inside. One faction was on board with this operation. Another faction said no, we shouldn't even, you know, allow any civilians out and that we should keep them as human shields, because if we let them out then the regime is going to finish us off.

BLOCK: Sam, this area in Homs has been under siege for 18 months. And, according to the World Food Program, people have been surviving on roots and weeds and grass. Have you been able to talk to people about just how desperate their condition is?

DAGHER: The situation is extremely desperate. I spoke to a couple just now and they said, you know, that the rebels had organized some sort of a food ration system. And then they said these amounts kept diminishing consistently until it's, you know, about a month ago - no more flour, no more anything. I spoke to someone who said he was only eating olives.

BLOCK: Just one last question before I let you go, Sam. Are the evacuations continuing or is that now over?

DAGHER: I know they're going to continue tomorrow and the day after.

BLOCK: And then the real question will be for the folks who remain, what happens to them? I mean there are fears that that'll be an all-out massacre of the folks who are left in Homs.

DAGHER: Yes, these are the fears because the government at that point will say, well, you know, we've let out most of the civilians that want to leave and we only have combatants left in there. So that is a real fear.

BLOCK: Sam Dagher, Middle East correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. He joined us from the Syrian city of Homs. Sam, thanks very much.

DAGHER: Sure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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