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Middle East

Syria conflict: Aid workers restart Homs mission after mortar attack

Supplies were sent to over 2,500 people trapped by the brutal civil war

Aid workers restarted humanitarian operations in Homs on Sunday, a day after they came under mortar fire in the besieged rebel heart of the city, evacuating dozens of civilians and sending in supplies to 2,500 people trapped by the Syrian civil war.

The Governor of Homs, Talal al-Barazi, told Al Mayadeen television that 65 women, children and elderly men were able to leave the devastated neighbourhoods in central Homs.

Syrian state television said humanitarian supplies were also sent into districts where rebel fighters and civilians have been besieged for a year and a half, despite coming under fire from rebel forces.

It did not say whether anyone was hurt in the attack, which, if confirmed, would be a further violation of a three-day humanitarian ceasefire that expired on Sunday night.

The government and rebels have traded accusations of responsibility for attacks that stranded a joint United Nations and Syrian Red Crescent team in central Old Homs for several hours after dark on Saturday.

The convoy was targeted just as the relief workers were handing over food and medical supplies. The Red Crescent said one of its drivers was lightly wounded but the rest of the team eventually left safely.

Video footage released by activists showed the joint team, led by UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Syria Yacoub el Hillo, taking refuge in a basement while explosions rocked the rubble-strewn streets above them. In another video filmed inside Homs on Saturday, Mr Hillo said the aid supplies, including food parcels, medicines and hygiene kits, were just a drop in the ocean when set against the conditions endured by people trapped for a year and a half.

“When I look around me and see the level of need and suffering of all – especially the children, the women and the elderly – let me say that, even though it’s a significant amount of medical and nutritional aid, it’s still just a drop,” he said. “But let’s start with this drop.”

On Friday, in the first of the planned three-day humanitarian operation in Homs, 83 women, children and elderly men were evacuated, significantly fewer than the 200 the city’s Governor had predicted. Many showed signs of malnutrition, the UN said.

Syria’s conflict has killed 130,000, driven millions from their homes and devastated whole city districts – particularly in Homs, a centre of protest when the 2011 uprising against 40 years of Assad family rule first erupted.

The evacuation and delivery of aid was the first concrete, though modest, result of talks launched two weeks ago to try to end the civil war.

At the Geneva peace talks, which resume today, international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi has been pushing for agreement on aid deliveries and prisoner releases, hoping progress on those issues could build momentum to address the far more contentious question of political transition.

Activists reported on Sunday that at least 11 people were killed in the northern city of Aleppo when helicopters dropped barrel bombs on rebel-held neighbourhoods.