The Syrian Arab Red Crescent successfully evacuated the first group of civilians from Homs on February 7, 2014, after the UN reached a ceasefire agreement with the governor of Homs. Syria’s state news agency announced an agreement that “secur[ed] the exit of innocent civilians from the Old City and the entrance of humanitarian assistance for civilians who choose to stay.”
Despite the agreement, a Syrian Red Crescent truck and UN aid convey came under mortar fire on day two of the three-day ceasefire agreement, injuring several aid workers. The second round of peace talks began February 10 and extended the ceasefire agreement for an additional three days to allow more civilian evacuations and continued delivery of aid and supplies.
As Homs residents feared, the government detained an estimated 390 men during evacuations. The Syrian government has promised to release all detained men as soon as they have been questioned and cleared of any suspected connection to rebel groups. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights disputed the governor’s statement that a week after evacuations began, 181 of the men had already been released. February 21, 2014, two weeks after the first civilians were evacuated from Homs, the number of detained men remains uncertain; the UN estimated 380 men were still being held as of the beginning of the week, whereas the governor’s statement several days later put the number at about 200. The UN is responding to the troublesome reports of detained men although it technically lacks control and oversight over the government’s process for determining whether the men have any connections with rebel forces.
UN Mediator Lakhdar Brahimi acknowledged that the talks have brought minimal progress. He expressed his own frustration with the Syrian government’s unwillingness to consider a proposal set forth by the opposition coalition on February 12, day three of the newest round of negotiations. The government representatives, according to Brahimi, refused to read the proposal and left the documents on the table as they left the meeting.
Activists stated that “[m]ore Syrians have been killed in the three weeks since peace talks began than at any other time in the civil war.” Rebel-held areas of Aleppo, a city on Syria’s northern border with Turkey, have repeatedly been hit with barrel bombs containing metal fragments. Unofficial figures estimate that at least 20,000 refugees have crossed the border into Turkey, with 35,000 more currently at the border waiting to cross. However, an opinion poll last year found that eighty-six percent of Turks “preferred setting limits on the number [of Syrian refugees] or sending them back altogether.”
The two sides did not meet face-to-face in February, but spoke separately with Brahimi. “Unfortunately we have reached a dead end,” the opposition spokesman stated, noting that the government’s belligerence is making it impossible to continue. Future talks are uncertain after both sides spent the week “trading blame . . . and endlessly restating their positions.”