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Syrian opposition calls plan to remove Homs women, children a ploy

  |   Jan. 27, 2014 at 4:07 PM
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GENEVA, Switzerland, Jan. 27 (UPI) -- The Syrian opposition delegation in Switzerland Monday decried the government's proposal to allow women and children out of Homs as a ploy to arrest rebels.

Opposition negotiators said the government's offer wasn't a substitute for allowing international aid convoys to enter the besieged city -- as U.N. mediators have proposed -- and the opposition's backers said international law clearly states that the Syrian government is obligated to allow unimpeded aid access without conditions, the New York Times reported.

"It is a simple thing they can and must do, but so far they have refused to allow humanitarian convoys into the Old City" of Homs, said Edgar Vasquez, a U.S. State Department spokesman at the peace conference in Geneva. "The armed fighters in the Old City have made clear that they will allow these convoys in. Thus, there should be no reason for delay. The regime must act now."

Syrian officials, meanwhile, said the focus on Homs is a distraction and they were doing all they could to get aid to people throughout the country -- a contention disputed by U.N. units such as the U.N. Relief and Works Agency.

Representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition coalition were at a stalemate Monday, the third day of face-to-face talks. Besides trying to get aid to those who need it in Homs, the two sides are at an impasse over a transitional government and how President Bashar Assad fits into Syria's future.

Asked about the lack of tangible progress, White House spokesman Jay Carney said President Obama and other leaders always knew the process would be difficult.

"What's important is that the two parties have sat in the same room over the past several days to discuss critical issues. And this process is ongoing. And I would expect quite a few ups and downs along the way," Carney said in Washington during media briefing.

"But it is the only way to end the conflict in Syria," Carney said. "It has to be ended through a negotiated political settlement."

Opposition delegates and their Western backers said international law is clear: Civilians have a right to stay in their homes and to receive food and medical aid where they are.

The Times said armed opposition groups in Homs have given guarantees they would not fire on aid convoys.

"What the regime has proposed -- an evacuation of women and children from the Old City -- is not sufficient," Vasquez said in a statement. "Civilians must be allowed to come and go freely, and the people of Homs must not be forced to leave their homes and split up their families before receiving much needed food and other aid."

Ahmad al-Jarba, opposition coalition president, posted on his Twitter page that the Syrian government often employed a strategy "of allowing women & children to leave, then massacring and imprisoning the men."

Opposition leaders and their backers have called on Russia to pressure the Syrian government. A Western diplomat at the conference told the Times if the convoy to Homs wasn't allowed by the end of the week, Assad's opponents could return to the Security Council, where Assad backers Russia and China have vetoed or watered down efforts to require the government to allow aid access.

"We may have to take this back to the Security Council and say there is clear non-compliance with what we have all agreed," he said. "Russia should do more with the regime, if the regime does not allow this convoy in."

The diplomat told the Times the issue could become whether Russia wanted the dispute over humanitarian aid to become the focus of international diplomacy as people are starving.

Syrian state media and opposition delegates said after talks resumed Monday the government's declaration of principles was rejected by the opposition, the BBC reported.

The British broadcaster said the declaration reportedly insisted Syrians choose a political system without outside "imposed formulas" and insisted "terrorism" be discussed instead of transferring power. The Syrian government uses "terrorists" and "terrorism" to describe opposition groups and their actions.

The opposition has maintained Assad must be replaced by a transitional administration and have no role in any future government.

Opposition delegate Monzer Akbik earlier said the teams had to discuss the make-up of a transitional body.

"The people not acceptable are the people who committed crimes against humanity and war crimes including Assad and his associates who have blood on their hands," Akbik said.

About 800 families, roughly 5,000 people, are reported trapped in besieged parts of Homs, 100 miles north of Damascus, including some who are very ill.

"The city has been under total siege for 595 days," a woman who gave her name as Mirna told the British newspaper the Daily Telegraph by Skype. "Food and medical supplies have run out, and we are under continuous bombardment. Minor injuries lead to death because of the lack of medical equipment."

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