UNICEF, UN’s children’s agency, reported at least 500 children have been evacuated from the Old City of Homs in Syria since last Friday, Feb. 7. Staff on the ground also confirmed about 20 pregnant women were among the evacuees.
“The children who came out looked frail and emaciated,” said UNICEF’s Tarek Hefnawy, who participated in the operation, in a statement.
Prior to the evacuation, UNICEF estimated that at over 1,000 children were trapped in the city; 500 more are still in need of rescue.
UN agencies reported more than 1,151 people have been moved out of the city to shelters or relatives in other parts of Homs, with 456 moved on Monday. The World Food Program delivered food supplies for 2,500 people.
Some 250,000 people still remain trapped in besieged or hard to reach areas throughout the country.
According to UNICEF estimates, there are nearly 5 million children in “dire situations” in Syria, and more than 1.2 million are living as refugees in neighboring countries.
On Sunday, it was announced that parties would extend the humanitarian pause for a further three days.
OCHA Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, said she hopes the temporary cease-fire “will allow us to evacuate yet more civilians and deliver much needed additional supplies. The protection of civilians caught up in this horrendous conflict in Syria is the greatest priority for UN agencies and humanitarian partners.”
Since Feb. 7, aid groups have been evacuating civilians, mostly women, children younger than 15 years, and the elderly. Most of the evacuees were taken to Al Waer, but as of today many were still being processed.
The situation on the ground remains extremely dangerous with 11 civilians working as part of a humanitarian convoy killed by a sniper and other fire.
Amos added that it was “absolutely unacceptable” for aid workers to be fired upon, after reports surfaced of UN and Syrian Red Crescent workers being targeted.
“People seeking refuge and those carrying out humanitarian operations should not be fired on. The international community must press for full accountability of the Syrian Government and Opposition forces and demand that the ceasefire is held so that all who want to leave can do so safely,” said Amos.
At a press briefing in Geneva on Tuesday, UN Joint Special Representative for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi said the humanitarian pause “can be called a success,” but acknowledged the lack of progress being made at the UN-sponsored talks between the Syrian government and opposition forces.
Brahimi said urged the pace of the talks to quicken, saying it took six months of dialogue to reach this new accord of only a few days.
“We all owe it to the Syrian people, to move a little bit faster than we are doing,” said Brahimi. He said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov and US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, will join him for a tri-lateral meeting in Geneva on Friday.
“The people of Syria are thinking: ‘Please, get something going that will stop this nightmare and this injustice that is inflicted on the Syrian people,’” he said.