Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Syrian government began evacuating civilians from Homs on Friday after Russia announced that a three-day truce had been agreed between Damascus and the rebels. The temporary truce comes as Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad confirmed that the government intends to take part in the second round of Geneva II peace talks.
A temporary truce has been reached between Syrian government and opposition to evacuate vulnerable civilians and allow aid supplies into the strategic city of Homs as Islamist rebels claimed the seizure of a key government stronghold in Aleppo on Thursday.
Moscow confirmed that the Russian embassy in Damascus played a central role in the months-long talks between the governor of Homs and the regional UN humanitarian coordinator.
The deal will see the evacuation of men over the age of 55, along with women and children from the city of Homs in western Syria, in addition to allowing the delivery of humanitarian aid supplies for those remaining.
“The result of difficult, multi-day negotiations . . . is an agreement to cease fire for three days and provide humanitarian support to the residents of the Old City of Homs,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) confirmed that Syrian Arab Red Crescent ambulances are in the process of evacuating Homs residents, adding that 200 people are expected to leave the city on Friday.
The first round of the long-awaited Geneva II peace talks ended last week without any concrete agreements, and with neither side expressing any enthusiasm for attending the second round of talks. Although the Assad government has now said that it does intend to attend the second round of peace talks, the manner of its confirmation has served to raise doubts about the Syrian National Coalition’s future attendance.
Syrian state news agency SANA claimed that the government delegation will attend the talks but would demand an “article-by-article” discussion of the Geneva Communiqué, the document agreed by the UN and the world powers as the basis for the peace talks. The West-backed Syrian National Coalition had earlier said it would not attend the peace talks if the government failed to acknowledge the Geneva Communiqué.
Syrian rebel factions took control of Aleppo’s central prison after a Chechen suicide bomber detonated himself at the gates of the government-held installation, the Islamist group Ahrar Al-Sham said.
The Islamist rebels stormed the prison and released an estimated 4,000 prisoners, including female detainees.
Ahrar Al-Sham has announced that it has taken full control of the prison with the help of the Al-Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda-linked group, following violent battles with government forces. The Al-Nusra Front confirmed that Seif Allah Al-Shishani—a nom de guerre meaning ‘the Chechan sword of God’—was “martyred” in the attack.
Syrian state television denied the reports, claiming that security forces remained in control of the prison. Aleppo’s central prison is situated in a strategically important location for both government and rebel forces, overlooking two supply routes linking Syria’s largest city with the northern countryside.
In another development, an explosion was heard from the Mezzaeh Military Airport near the Syrian capital, activists told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Syria’s Revolutionaries Front said it targeted the airport’s northeastern entrance, killing dozens of troops loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad.