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US warns world watching as Syria vows to free evacuees

Syrian civilians wait at a meeting point before being evacuated during a UN-led humanitarian operation in the besieged Syrian city of Homs on February 12, 2014. AFP PHOTO/BASSEL TAWIL

DAMASCUS/BEIRUT: Syria sought to give reassurances Thursday about the fate of men and boys detained during the evacuation from rebel-held areas of Homs city, as Washington warned the world is watching.

In Switzerland, international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi was to meet representatives of the two co-sponsors on the so-called Geneva II peace talks, the United States and Russia.

However, there were no direct meetings planned between the two sides in the deadly conflict on day four of the second round of the process.

Homs governor Talal al-Barazi said men arrested by the authorities after being evacuated from besieged districts of Homs under a UN-brokered ceasefire will be released on Thursday.

"Young men aged between 18 and 54 will be freed today," he said, without specifying how many would be released.

Barazi said 390 men of weapons-bearing age had been detained for interrogation after being evacuated from rebel-held districts.

On Wednesday, he said that 111 had been released, though there was no immediate confirmation from the UN, which had earlier said 42 were freed.

Anti-regime activists say they fear arrest if they leave the rebel-controlled enclaves.

The State Department said Washington expected Syria to keep its promise to free the men.

"The regime has said it would release men after they had been screened, and we expect them to keep that pledge," spokesman Edgar Vasquez said.

"Given the regime's past actions, the international community cannot take this for granted and needs to monitor the fate of these men."

Vasquez said any attempt to keep them in detention "will not go unnoticed".

"The regime should know that the world is watching with deep concern what is taking place in Homs and the status of these male evacuees."

British Foreign Secretary William Hague called the detentions "outrageous".

A humanitarian operation began last Friday in ravaged Homs, Syria's third city, where regime forces have besieged rebel-held districts for more than 600 days.

Activists say living conditions under the siege are dismal, with some 3,000 people surviving on little more than olives and herbs.

The United Nations says 336 men aged between 16 and 54 have left the besieged districts since Friday, although a UN-mediated deal had only envisaged the evacuation of women, children and the elderly.

Men fleeing the siege cited "hunger" as their reason for leaving.

The Homs operation has so far seen some 1,400 people evacuated and 6.2 tons of flour and 500 food parcels distributed.

Although no evacuations or aid deliveries were expected Thursday, Barazi said the truce will probably be extended for another three days from Friday.

Meanwhile, a spike in regime air attacks and fighting has sent the death toll soaring, as Brahimi struggles to prevent the Geneva talks from collapsing.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported at least 51 people killed on Wednesday in Aleppo alone, mostly civilians in air raids.

The Britain-based watchdog has reported an average of 236 people killed daily since the Geneva II process began on January 22.

It said explosive-packed barrel bombs were responsible for many of Wednesday's Aleppo fatalities.

They killed 28 people, including seven children, in opposition areas of what was once Syria's commercial

 

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Summary

Syria sought to give reassurances Thursday about the fate of men and boys detained during the evacuation from rebel-held areas of Homs city, as Washington warned the world is watching.

Homs governor Talal al-Barazi said men arrested by the authorities after being evacuated from besieged districts of Homs under a UN-brokered ceasefire will be released on Thursday.

A humanitarian operation began last Friday in ravaged Homs, Syria's third city, where regime forces have besieged rebel-held districts for more than 600 days.

It said explosive-packed barrel bombs were responsible for many of Wednesday's Aleppo fatalities.

They killed 28 people, including seven children, in opposition areas of what was once Syria's commercial


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