Syrian government agrees to attend second round of peace talks

Feb. 7, 2014 at 10:59 AM
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HOMS, Syria, Feb. 7 (UPI) -- Syria's government will participate in a second round of peace talks with rebel representatives in Switzerland next week, a government official said Friday.

"Restoring security and stability to Syria makes it necessary to discuss putting an end to terrorism and violence as stated in Geneva Communique and underlines the need for agreement of both Syrian sides on that for protecting the Syrian citizens and stopping the Syrian bloodshed at the hands of regionally and internationally backed armed terrorist groups," Deputy Foreign and Expatriates Minister Faisal Mikdad said in a statement.

The second round of talks will be in Geneva where the first talks were conducted in January.

The first busloads of evacuees left the besieged Syrian city of Homs Friday, the government-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported.

Homs Gov. Talal al-Barazi and Yacoub el-Hillo, the United Nations' resident representative in Syria, reached an agreement Thursday to secure the evacuation of children, women and seniors from Homs and to bring in humanitarian aid to those who remain in the city.

Barazi said about 200 people would be evacuated.

Under the agreement, a cease-fire was to go into effect.

"We welcome the news that a deal has been reached," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Abu Rami, an opposition spokesman in Homs, told CNN the agreement called for a cease-fire at a time to be set by the government. After the first wave of evacuations, a U.N. aid convoy of food and medicine would enter the area for the first time in more than a year, Rami said.

"We have nothing to give the families," he told CNN. "We are are crippled because of the lack of food and medicine, which especially affects the women, children and the elderly, so for the sake of the public good, we must agree to this cease-fire."

In Washington, Psaki called on Syrian President Bashar Assad's government to follow through on allowing U.N. convoys to enter Homs.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said the Obama administration didn't trust the Assad regime's promise, which she noted appeared limited to people the regime would determine to be "innocent."

"Given that the regime, up to this point, has described just about anybody living in opposition territory as a terrorist -- and has attacked them as such -- you know, we have reason on the basis of history to be very skeptical," she said.

By contrast, the United Nations said it welcomed the reports of the regime's promise.

"The United Nations and humanitarian partners had pre-positioned food, medical and other basic supplies on the outskirts of Homs, ready for immediate delivery as soon as the green light was given by the parties for safe passage," a U.N. spokesman said in a statement.

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