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Syria talks focused on route for aid shipment

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By McClatchy Newspapers
Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014, 7:51 p.m.

GENEVA — The Syrian government and its opponents, in their first face-to-face meeting, on Saturday discussed opening an aid corridor to the besieged old city neighborhood of Homs, raising hopes that a humanitarian gesture might spur progress toward ending Syria's devastating civil war.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.'s special envoy for Syria, said a convoy with food, medicines and supplies could go in as soon as Monday — if agreement can be reached with local belligerents on Sunday.

The old city has been under siege for well over a year, and the last aid delivery there was in November 2012, an official of the International Committee of the Red Cross told McClatchy. He said the ICRC, and its partner, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, have repeatedly been refused permission to send in food and medicine.

The ICRC does not know how many people are living in the largely destroyed old town, but estimates there are between 1,000 and 3,000, said Robert Mardini, the ICRC director of operations in the Middle East.

Louay Safi, a member of the Syrian Opposition Coalition's negotiating team, told reporters his group believed there might 500 families still in the besieged areas of Homs, suggesting a slightly higher number of individual men, women and children, given aid group estimates that the average Syrian family includes seven people.

“People have been eating animals from the streetâ?¦leaves and grass,” Safi said. “Nothing gets in — food or water,” and residents of the old city have to dig wells to get water, he said.

“Homs is a test balloon,” Safi said. “We want to see if the regime will be able to provide food to people who are going hungry.”

While most of Homs is under government control, some rebel-controlled districts have been the target of fierce government attacks this week, and even as the negotiators were meeting here, the Houla district was under shell fire, according to the anti-government Local Coordinating Committees. Also attacked this week were the Homs districts of al Waar, al Hamra and al Ghouta, activists reported.

Elsewere in Syria, anti-government activists reported government helicopters had dropped so-called barrel bombs — improvised explosive devices with immense destructive force — on Daraya, a Damascus suburb, and had shelled several other places. At least seven people were killed, the committees said.

Brahimi said, “It is very unfortunate that the fighting continues, that the shelling continues.” He said it was “extremely unfortunate” that barrel bombs were being used, as they are a forbidden weapon under international law.

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