Cease-fire falters in embattled Syrian city, halts aid, evacuations

The Associated Press

In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center (AMC), which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, Syrian men help survivors out of a destroyed building after a Syrian forces warplane's attack in Aleppo, Syria, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014. Syrian military aircraft dropped barrels bombs on rebel-held areas in the northern city of Aleppo on Saturday. (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center AMC)

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By DIAA HADID and BASSEM MROUE, Associated Press

BEIRUT (AP) — Two trucks carrying food and medical supplies into rebel-held neighborhoods in the central Syrian city of Homs turned back under heavy fire Saturday, leaving four paramedics wounded as a cease-fire faltered, Syrian officials said.

Talal Barrazi, the governor of Homs province, told the Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV that the attack occurred late in the afternoon and that the trucks were targeted by two roadside bombs and a mortar shell from the rebel side.

Homs activist Ahmad al-Qusair however denied there had been roadside bombs and said the convoy was attacked by mortar shells fired by government forces.

Barrazi later told Syrian state TV that two trucks were able to reach opposition-held neighborhoods earlier in the day. Al-Mayadeen also reported that two trucks, carrying 250 food parcels, were able to cross into rebel-held areas Saturday.

The state TV said four members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent were wounded by rebel fire in the area, but gave no further details.

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent said on its Facebook page that its members were able to deliver 250 food parcels and 190 parcels containing detergents and medicines to the central neighborhood of Hamidiyeh despite begin targeted by several mortar rounds. It added that one of its members was lightly wounded and two trucks were damaged.

It was not immediately clear why state media said four paramedics were wounded and the Red Crescent said only one.

Barrazi said about 100 civilians expected to be evacuated from rebel-held areas had yet to arrive. On Friday, 83 children, women and elderly people on wheelchairs were evacuated from Homs, the first people to leave the area in months, the U.N. said.

Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar Assad have prevented the entry of food and medical aid into rebel-held parts of the city for over a year, badly affecting hundreds of civilians holed up in the areas. An agreement had called for a three-day truce to allow the evacuation of some civilians and the entry of food shipments.

Al-Mayadeen aired live footage from the city's Clock Square showing two white trucks identified with Syrian Arab Red Crescent markings as they returned from their unfulfilled mission. The station's reporter in the area said the radiator of one of the trucks was hit by a bullet.

"After the vehicles drove about 200 meters (yards) two roadside bombs went off, and when they kept going a mortar round fell in the area coming from the direction of Hamadiyeh," said Barrazi, referring to a rebel-held central neighborhood.

Earlier in the day, a Syrian official said fighting had broken out and that a mortar shell had landed near U.N. personnel. An activist said combat began when government forces fired 11 rockets toward the rebel-held Hamidiyeh quarter. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.

U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said in a statement Saturday evening that she was disappointed the three-day humanitarian pause was broken and that aid workers were targeted.

"Today's events serve as a stark reminder of the dangers that civilians and aid workers face every day across Syria," the statement read. "I continue to call on those engaged in this brutal conflict to respect the humanitarian pause, ensure the protection of civilians and facilitate the safe delivery of aid. "

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said two people were killed and several others wounded in an attack on rebel-held neighborhoods that residents blamed on government forces.

Homs city was one of the first areas to rise up against Assad in 2011 and has been particularly hard hit by the war. Over the past year, the government has regained control over much of the city, except for a few neighborhoods in the historic center.

A coalition of exiled Syrian activists said Saturday they feared the agreement would be used as a "prelude to the regime destroying the city."