DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — A United Nations official is contacting opposition fighters in besieged neighborhoods of a central Syrian city to allow the evacuation of civilians, the governor of Homs province said Tuesday.
Gov. Talal Barrazi said in a statement that policewomen, paramedics and members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent are ready to arrange the evacuation from the city of Homs and "we are waiting for the U.N.'s response."
Barrazi's statement came two days after a tentative agreement was reached in Geneva peace talks for the evacuation of women and children trapped in Homs before aid convoys go in. U.N.-Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said security problems are delaying the evacuation.
Rebel-held central Homs has been under siege for nearly two years.
"We are hopeful that the U.N. team will succeed in getting an approval from armed groups in the old city to guarantee evacuation of civilians," Barrazi said. "We are ready."
An activist in the city who goes with the name Firas al-Homsi confirmed that talks are ongoing, adding that the government is "refusing to allow food" into the area.
"Nothing has changed since the Geneva talks and yesterday we were subjected to heavy shelling," the activist said via Skype. He said the conditions in besieged areas are miserable, with people mostly relying on olives to survive.
Homs, Syria's third-largest city, has been one of the hardest hit areas since the country's crisis began in March 2011. Fighting since has killed more 130,000 people, opposition activists say.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said several Homs neighborhoods were being subjected to mortar and heavy machine gun fire Tuesday. It said there were no casualties.
Barrazi said Syrian authorities have asked the International Committee of the Red Cross to help in evacuating Father Francis Van Der Lugt from a monastery in Bustan al-Diwan in Homs. Van Der Lught, 72, has been living in Syria since 1964.
On Saturday, the Dutch priest wrote on a Syrian Christian Facebook page that "hunger has rolled over us! Hunger defeated us! We can see its signs drawn over the faces."
"People are wandering the streets screaming; We are starving, we need food! They stop by the inhabited houses trying to find some food. Hunger breaks the rules and eliminates all moral principles," the priest wrote in a statement published in English and French. "We are living a scary reality. Human beings turn into wild animals living in the wild!"
Mroue reported from Beirut.