| 15.4°C Dublin

The spectre of Srebrenica hangs over besieged Old City of Homs, warns William Hague

Evacuation of Civilians from Homs Close

Syrian civilians sit with their belongings next to rebel fighters  in a street of a besieged rebel-held area of Syria's third city Homs on February 11, 2014.

Syrian civilians sit with their belongings next to rebel fighters in a street of a besieged rebel-held area of Syria's third city Homs on February 11, 2014.

AFP/Getty Images

A Syrian man looks for items amid debris and garbage as he walks alongside a woman pushing a cart in a street of a besieged rebel-held area of Syria's third city Homs on February 11, 2014.

A Syrian man looks for items amid debris and garbage as he walks alongside a woman pushing a cart in a street of a besieged rebel-held area of Syria's third city Homs on February 11, 2014.

AFP/Getty Images

Syrian civilians are escorted by Red Crescent, United Nations and World Food Programe vehicles as they are evacuated during an operation in the besieged Syrian city of Homs on February 10, 2014.

Syrian civilians are escorted by Red Crescent, United Nations and World Food Programe vehicles as they are evacuated during an operation in the besieged Syrian city of Homs on February 10, 2014.

AFP/Getty Images

Civilians are evacuated from the besieged Syrian city of Homs during an UN-led operation, on February 9, 2014. Three days of humanitarian access to Homs, parts of which have been under siege for nearly two years, began on January 31 under a UN-mediated deal between the Syrian regime and rebels.

Civilians are evacuated from the besieged Syrian city of Homs during an UN-led operation, on February 9, 2014. Three days of humanitarian access to Homs, parts of which have been under siege for nearly two years, began on January 31 under a UN-mediated deal between the Syrian regime and rebels.

AFP/Getty Images

United Nations and Red Crescent vehicles loaded with suitcases escort Syrian civilians evacuated from the besieged Syrian city of Homs, on February 9, 2014.

United Nations and Red Crescent vehicles loaded with suitcases escort Syrian civilians evacuated from the besieged Syrian city of Homs, on February 9, 2014.

AFP/Getty Images

Civilians wait to be evacuated by United Nations (UN) staff, from the besieged district of the central Syrian city of Homs to a safer location, on February 9, 2014.

Civilians wait to be evacuated by United Nations (UN) staff, from the besieged district of the central Syrian city of Homs to a safer location, on February 9, 2014.

AFP/Getty Images

Civilians wait to be evacuated by United Nations (UN) staff, from the besieged district of the central Syrian city of Homs to a safer location, on February 9, 2014.

Civilians wait to be evacuated by United Nations (UN) staff, from the besieged district of the central Syrian city of Homs to a safer location, on February 9, 2014.

AFP/Getty Images

Civilians are helped out of the besieged district of the central Syrian city of Homs, ahead of being evacuated by United Nations (UN) staff to a safer location, on February 9, 2014.

Civilians are helped out of the besieged district of the central Syrian city of Homs, ahead of being evacuated by United Nations (UN) staff to a safer location, on February 9, 2014.

AFP/Getty Images

Civilians wait to be evacuated by United Nations (UN) staff, from the besieged district of the central Syrian city of Homs to a safer location, on February 9, 2014.

Civilians wait to be evacuated by United Nations (UN) staff, from the besieged district of the central Syrian city of Homs to a safer location, on February 9, 2014.

AFP/Getty Images

Civilians wait to be evacuated from the besieged district of the central Syrian city of Homs by United Nations (UN) staff to a safer location, on February 9, 2014.

Civilians wait to be evacuated from the besieged district of the central Syrian city of Homs by United Nations (UN) staff to a safer location, on February 9, 2014.

AFP/Getty Images

Aid teams evacuated hundreds of exhausted civilians from besieged districts of the city of Homs, as Syria's regime and rebels again accused each other of violating a truce.

Aid teams evacuated hundreds of exhausted civilians from besieged districts of the city of Homs, as Syria's regime and rebels again accused each other of violating a truce.

AFP/Getty Images

Civilians wait to be evacuated by United Nations (UN) staff, from the besieged district of the central Syrian city of Homs to a safer location, on February 9, 2014.

Civilians wait to be evacuated by United Nations (UN) staff, from the besieged district of the central Syrian city of Homs to a safer location, on February 9, 2014.

AFP/Getty Images

Men carry a body out of the besieged district of the central Syrian city of Homs ahead of being evacuated by United Nations (UN) staff to a safer location, on February 9, 2014.

Men carry a body out of the besieged district of the central Syrian city of Homs ahead of being evacuated by United Nations (UN) staff to a safer location, on February 9, 2014.

AFP/Getty Images

Syrians gather with their belongings in a street of a besieged district of the central city of Homs on February 8, 2014 as a United Nations and Syria's Red Crescent humanitarian convoy (unseen) delivers food and medical aid.

Syrians gather with their belongings in a street of a besieged district of the central city of Homs on February 8, 2014 as a United Nations and Syria's Red Crescent humanitarian convoy (unseen) delivers food and medical aid.

AFP/Getty Images

Civilians leave the  the besieged district of the central Syrian city of Homs ahead of being evacuated by United Nations (UN) staff to a safer location, on February 9, 2014

Civilians leave the the besieged district of the central Syrian city of Homs ahead of being evacuated by United Nations (UN) staff to a safer location, on February 9, 2014

AFP/Getty Images

Civilians wait to be evacuated by United Nations (UN) staff from the besieged district of the central Syrian city of Homs to a safer location, on February 9, 2014.

Civilians wait to be evacuated by United Nations (UN) staff from the besieged district of the central Syrian city of Homs to a safer location, on February 9, 2014.

AFP/Getty Images

A man looks at a United Nations (UN) staff member ahead of being evacuated from the besieged district of the central Syrian city of Homs to a safer location, on February 9, 2014.

A man looks at a United Nations (UN) staff member ahead of being evacuated from the besieged district of the central Syrian city of Homs to a safer location, on February 9, 2014.

AFP/Getty Images

An United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) worker (R) talks with rebel fighters on February 8, 2014 on the second day of a humanitarian mission in a besieged district of the central city of Homs.

An United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) worker (R) talks with rebel fighters on February 8, 2014 on the second day of a humanitarian mission in a besieged district of the central city of Homs.

AFP/Getty Images

 The Syrian Red Crescent delivered a first batch of much-needed aid to civilians trapped for nearly two years in rebel-held areas of Homs city, despite coming under fire from mortars.

The Syrian Red Crescent delivered a first batch of much-needed aid to civilians trapped for nearly two years in rebel-held areas of Homs city, despite coming under fire from mortars.

AFP/Getty Images

A Syrian man pushes an injured man in a wheelchair as they are evacuated during a humanitarian operation in the besieged Syrian city of Homs on February 10, 2014.

A Syrian man pushes an injured man in a wheelchair as they are evacuated during a humanitarian operation in the besieged Syrian city of Homs on February 10, 2014.

AFP/Getty Images

Three days of humanitarian access to Homs, parts of which have been under siege for nearly two years, began on January 31 under a UN-mediated deal between the Syrian regime and rebels.

Three days of humanitarian access to Homs, parts of which have been under siege for nearly two years, began on January 31 under a UN-mediated deal between the Syrian regime and rebels.

AFP/Getty Images

A Syrian Red Crescent worker helps evacuate a man from the besieged district of the central Syrian city of Homs to a safer location on February 9, 2014. A total of 420 people were evacuated from army-besieged districts of the Syrian city of Homs, the province's governor said, as television footage showed exhausted men, women and children. AFP PHOTO/STR        (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)

A Syrian Red Crescent worker helps evacuate a man from the besieged district of the central Syrian city of Homs to a safer location on February 9, 2014. A total of 420 people were evacuated from army-besieged districts of the Syrian city of Homs, the province's governor said, as television footage showed exhausted men, women and children. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)

AFP/Getty Images

A truce that has allowed the evacuation of hundreds of civilians from besieged districts of Homs was extended for three days as around 450 civilians were given safe passage out of the war-ravaged city, according to Syria's Red Crescent, bringing the total number allowed out since February 7 to some 1,200.

A truce that has allowed the evacuation of hundreds of civilians from besieged districts of Homs was extended for three days as around 450 civilians were given safe passage out of the war-ravaged city, according to Syria's Red Crescent, bringing the total number allowed out since February 7 to some 1,200.

AFP/Getty Images

Syrian civilians walk as they are evacuated during a humanitarian operation in the besieged Syrian city of Homs on February 10, 2014.

Syrian civilians walk as they are evacuated during a humanitarian operation in the besieged Syrian city of Homs on February 10, 2014.

AFP/Getty Images

An United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) worker (R) talks with rebel fighters on February 8, 2014 on the second day of a humanitarian mission in a besieged district of the central city of Homs.

An United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) worker (R) talks with rebel fighters on February 8, 2014 on the second day of a humanitarian mission in a besieged district of the central city of Homs.

AFP/Getty Images

A Syrian man looks for herbs to eat with his family in the heavily damaged neighbourhood of Juret al-Shiyah, which is allegedly exposed to the fire of government forces' snipers, in the central Syrian city of Homs on February 1, 2014.

A Syrian man looks for herbs to eat with his family in the heavily damaged neighbourhood of Juret al-Shiyah, which is allegedly exposed to the fire of government forces' snipers, in the central Syrian city of Homs on February 1, 2014.

AFP/Getty Images

A man uses crutches as he walks past damaged buildings in a neighbourhood, besieged by government forces, in the central Syrian city of Homs on February 1, 2014.

A man uses crutches as he walks past damaged buildings in a neighbourhood, besieged by government forces, in the central Syrian city of Homs on February 1, 2014.

AFP/Getty Images

/

Syrian civilians sit with their belongings next to rebel fighters in a street of a besieged rebel-held area of Syria's third city Homs on February 11, 2014.

The Srebrenica massacre of 1995, in which more than 8,000 men and boys were killed, could be repeated in Syria’s Old City of Homs, William Hague has warned.

Writing in The London Independent as delegates for the Assad government and the opposition Syrian National Coalition meet for another round of talks, the British  Foreign Secretary calls for the UN Security Council to “turn up the heat” on the government, to demand “full and unimpeded humanitarian access” to areas of the country in desperate need.

Hundreds of women, children and men over 55 or under 15 years-old were allowed to leave the besieged Old City of Homs during a 72-hour ceasefire brokered by the governor of Homs and a local UN figure over the weekend. Food and medical aid was delivered to those remaining within the Old City, which has been under siege for at least a year. Talks were under way last night to extend the ceasefire.

However, Mr Hague warns that “we should all be gravely concerned” about the fate of those who have left the city, and those who remain.

“Will the evacuees be protected, or will they persecuted by the regime? Will those who remain be treated as fair game for even more devastating attacks by Assad’s security forces? The lessons of Srebrenica should haunt us all, when the deliberate separating out of women and children preceded the massacre of 8,000 captive men and boys,” Mr Hague writes.

Close

Civilians wait to be evacuated by United Nations (UN) staff, from the besieged district of the central Syrian city of Homs to a safer location, on February 9, 2014.

Civilians wait to be evacuated by United Nations (UN) staff, from the besieged district of the central Syrian city of Homs to a safer location, on February 9, 2014.

AFP/Getty Images

Civilians wait to be evacuated by United Nations (UN) staff, from the besieged district of the central Syrian city of Homs to a safer location, on February 9, 2014.

 

 

 

There were reports on Monday that some men leaving the Old City were detained. Part of the terms of the agreement brokered by the UN and signed by both sides, including the commanders of some 30 rebel factions in the Old City, is that fighters who lay down their weapons can take advantage of an amnesty. But armed opposition members are concerned that they may be handing themselves over for imprisonment, torture and execution.

 

A difference between Srebrenica and Homs Old City is that the Bosnian Muslim men and boys were primarily civilians while a high but unknown proportion of males of military age besieged in the Old City are likely to be armed and have taken part in the fighting. The governor of Homs, Talal al-Barazi, told The Independent in an interview in Homs last week that it would be a difficult military operation for the Syrian army to storm the warren of narrow streets in the Old City.

Hatred and distrust between the two sides in Syria is now so deep that even a shaky ceasefire deal has been negotiated with great difficulty by the UN. Little progress has been made at the “Geneva II” talks, which began again this week.

 

Mr Hague said the UN Security Council “should demand an immediate end to the use of starvation as a weapon of war, and to impunity for violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses. And it should call for the regime to stop using barrel bombs and other kinds of weaponry against innocent civilians across Syria.”

 

Close

A truce that has allowed the evacuation of hundreds of civilians from besieged districts of Homs was extended for three days as around 450 civilians were given safe passage out of the war-ravaged city, according to Syria's Red Crescent, bringing the total number allowed out since February 7 to some 1,200.

A truce that has allowed the evacuation of hundreds of civilians from besieged districts of Homs was extended for three days as around 450 civilians were given safe passage out of the war-ravaged city, according to Syria's Red Crescent, bringing the total number allowed out since February 7 to some 1,200.

AFP/Getty Images

A truce that has allowed the evacuation of hundreds of civilians from besieged districts of Homs was extended for three days as around 450 civilians were given safe passage out of the war-ravaged city, according to Syria's Red Crescent, bringing the total number allowed out since February 7 to some 1,200.

 

 

 

Yet the Security Council’s hands have been tied on previous occasions, when opposition from Russia and China has scuppered such resolutions against the Assad regime.

 

Mr Hague warns that “if Assad continues to cling to power, the violence and suffering will only increase.”

 

On the ground in Syria, President Bashar al-Assad’s forces control 13 out of 14 Syrian provincial capitals and most of the main roads. Without foreign military intervention, and with the support of Russia and Iran, he remains in a powerful position.

Independent News Service