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Deal Gives Women, Children Safe Passage From Besieged Syrian City

A child clears damage and debris in the besieged area of Homs on Sunday.
A child clears damage and debris in the besieged area of Homs on Sunday.

Syrian peace talks in Geneva have produced their first tangible result — an agreement to allow women and children to escape the city of Homs, which has been under government siege for more than a year.

"What we have been told by the government side is that women and children in the besieged area of the old city are welcome to leave immediately," Brahimi told reporters.

Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad confirmed the agreement, but said it was "armed groups" that were preventing their movement.

"I assure you that if the armed terorists in Homs allow women and children to leave the Old City of Homs, we will allow them every access, not only that, we will provide them with shelter, medicines and all that is needed," Mekdad said.

Homs is one of the first cities to rebel against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

NPR's Deborah Amos reports from Geneva that some five hundred families have been trapped in the city since the siege began.

"[Regime] negotiators [also] insisted on a list of all the adult males to ensure they are civilians and not rebels," Deborah says. "That request is likely to be hard to fulfill because of the risk of arrest."

Brahimi acknowledged on Sunday that the "safe passage" deal was only a small step in what he hoped would be a broader peace deal between the two sides, which have been fighting since 2011 in a conflict that has claimed well over 100,000 lives.

"You may gain one hour and lose one week," he said of the uncertain nature of the talks.

As we reported on Saturday, on the first day of talks as representatives eyed each other warily, Brahimi lamented that "we haven't achieved much."

"The situation is very difficult and very, very complicated, and we are moving not in steps, but half-steps," he said on Saturday.

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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