UN wins more time in fight to save Syrian civilians

Aid officials have rushed to evacuate more women, children and elderly people from areas blockaded by government troops after a UN-brokered ceasefire was renewed for three more days.

The truce in Homs, which began on Friday, has been shaken by continued shelling and shooting that prevented some residents from escaping and limited the amount of food aid delivered into besieged neighbourhoods.

UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos sharply criticised the two sides, saying UN and Syrian Red Crescent workers were “deliberately targeted”.

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The drama in Homs, where Baroness Amos said around 800 civilians had been evacuated so far, played out as activists yesterday reported new sectarian killings in Syria’s civil war.

Meanwhile, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed al-Qaida-linked rebels killed more than two dozen civilians, including an entire family, when they overran a village populated by minority Alawites on Sunday.

They also killed around 20 local fighters in the village.

The violence further rattled peace talks that entered their second round in Geneva – and which quickly became mired in recriminations between President Bashar Assad’s government and the opposition in exile.

The government says it is trying to defeat an extremist, al-Qaida insurgency. Syria’s opposition insists it is a popular uprising against the appalling cruelty of the Assad family regime, which has been infiltrated by Islamists from Iraq taking advantage of the chaos.

The aid operation in Homs laid bare the desperation in the besieged areas. Homs, in central Syria, was one of the first cities to rise up against Assad.

Many of those evacuated since Friday “were traumatised and weak”, Baroness Amos said. She said around 800 had been evacuated since Friday, though the governor of Homs province put the number at around 1,070.

At the United Nations, Russia threatened to veto Western efforts to push through a Security Council resolution that would raise the prospect of sanctions against Syria unless the government gives unrestricted access to deliver humanitarian aid.