independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Syria 'to let siege civilians go'

Bashar Assad's government has not decided whether to take part in a second round of Syria peace talks, an adviser says

The Syrian government has reached an agreement to evacuate civilians from besieged parts of the central city of Homs, reports say.

Homs Governor Talal Barrazi said the deal was reached with the United Nations to evacuate the civilians "very soon," according to state TV

Rebel who have held ancient parts of the city known as Old Homs have been besieged by government forces for more than a year. Week-long peace talks in Geneva last month failed to achieve any concrete results on the evacuation of civilians and humanitarian aid convoys to Homs.

The report came as Syrian rebels launched a new push in the northern province of Aleppo and stormed a major section of a prison there, freeing hundreds of prisoners.

The advance came amid a relentless air campaign by government forces that killed at least 11 people in an opposition-held district of the provincial capital of Aleppo. Activists said government aircraft dropped so-called barrel bombs - containers packed with explosives, fuel and scrap metal that inflict massive damage upon impact.

At least 246 people, including 73 children, have died in the past five days alone in similar aerial bombardment of the city, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The rebels today declared their intention to liberate Aleppo's central prison and the Kweiras military air base east of the city. Opposition fighters have been trying to capture the facilities for months.

The prison, in particular, has been caught in the deadly stalemate of Syria's civil war. Rebels have been besieging the facility, estimated to have around 4,000 prisoners, for almost a year. They have rammed suicide car bombs into the prison's front gates twice, lobbed shells into the compound and battled frequently with the hundreds of guards and troops holed up inside.

The new push began when a suicide bomber from the al Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra brigade blew himself up at the gates. That was followed by a ground offensive during which rebels managed to gain control of most of the facility.

The Observatory said at least 300 prisoners were freed by the rebels. The anti-government Aleppo Media Centre said rebels had gained control over the prison.

However, state TV said the army foiled an attempt by "terrorist groups" to attack the prison.

A close adviser to Syrian president Bashar Assad said the government has not yet decided on whether to take part in a second round of peace talks tentatively scheduled for next week.

Mr Assad's political and media adviser Bouthaina Shaaban also said that the delegation that took part in the negotiations in Switzerland is still evaluating the first round of talks and briefing the leadership.

The UN has proposed opening a second round of discussions on Monday.

The opposition Syrian National Coalition already has agreed to attend.

AP

Press Association

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