BEIRUT: More than half of the 500 families trapped in the city of Homs refuse to be evacuated, saying they fear leaving male relatives behind, activists said Monday.
“Some 200 women and children, those suffering the worst as a result of the lack of food and medical supplies because of the army siege, are ready to be evacuated,” said Abu Ziad, an activist in the besieged, rebel-held part of the central city.
“Those willing to leave would only do so if there are guarantees they won’t be detained by the regime … But many others do not want to leave their husbands behind.”
He spoke a day after the U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, who is leading peace talks in Geneva, said that women and children trapped in besieged areas of Homs would be allowed to leave Monday.
Lakhdar Brahimi also said the government had agreed to allow humanitarian aid into the rebel areas, which have been under siege for nearly 600 days.
But by Monday afternoon there was no confirmation any aid would be brought in, or that anyone would be allowed out, Abu Ziad said.
“The shelling is still non-stop. Many houses are on fire. People are still getting killed.”
Activists in Homs’ rebel districts, which cover only a tiny section of Syria’s third city, cautiously welcomed the proposal.
However, they also said the aid must be sufficient to meet their needs, while demanding guarantees that any women, children and wounded people who choose to leave will not be detained.
Some 3,000 people are trapped in Homs’ rebel-held areas, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group. Fighting rages on the edges of the besieged districts, which come under daily shelling, and food and medical supplies have all but run out.
“One of the women who is desperate to go has been eating nothing but olives, one meal a day, for weeks. She is breastfeeding her infant child, and can give him nothing,” Abu Ziad said.
“There are many tragic stories here,” he added.
Rights groups have repeatedly condemned the siege of Homs’ Old City and called for all parties in Syria’s conflict to facilitate immediate humanitarian access.
Separately a Dutch Roman Catholic priest has launched a desperate YouTube appeal for help, describing conditions in the besieged city as “unbearable.”
“Muslims and Christians, we’re living under difficult and painful conditions, we suffer greatly but most of all from hunger,” said Father Frans van der Lugt, a 75-year-old priest, apparently addressing the camera from the altar of a church.