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Syria activists urge lifting of 600-day siege of Homs

Syrian activists urge opposition figures holding peace talks with regime officials in Geneva to push for the lifting of a 600-day siege on rebels districts in Homs.

BEIRUT: Syrian activists on Tuesday urged opposition figures holding peace talks with regime officials to push for the lifting of a 600-day army siege on rebels districts in Homs.

Homs activists issued the plea after UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said the regime had agreed to allow women and children safe passage out of rebel-held areas in the central city.

Brahimi on Sunday also voiced hope that a humanitarian aid convoy would be allowed to enter the besieged areas on Monday but that has not yet happened.

Dubbed "the capital of the revolution," Syria's third city Homs has paid a high price for its opposition to Assad.

Activists say that food and medical supplies have all but completely run out for the more than 3,000 people who have been under siege in rebels areas of the Old City since June 2012.

"We need the siege lifted and to ensure that residents can enter and exit through safe corridors, without passing through regime checkpoints," the activists said in a statement.

Should the siege remain in place, "all solutions will be futile, and will do nothing to end this tragedy," they added in remarks addressed to opposition representatives taking part in the Geneva peace talks.

"There are dozens of people who need immediate surgery, and more than 250 families are suffering because of the siege."

Published on the Facebook page of Homs-based activist Yazan, the statement also said: "On Tuesday the siege entered its 600th day."

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Monday there had been "no concrete step taken" to provide aid or evacuate women and children from the besieged districts.

According to Syrian state news agency SANA, Homs governor Talal al-Barazi gave the assurance that measures were in place for the evacuation to begin.

"Teams of police, doctors and the Syrian Red Crescent are ready to organise the evacuation of civilians from the Old City as soon as they receive a response from the UN representative, who is coordinating with the armed groups," Barazi said.

"The authorities have been working for four months to bring civilians out of the Old City, and we hope to succeed, in cooperation with the UN and the ICRC," Barazi added.

The ICRC has been denied access to Homs' besieged districts since November 2012.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says an estimated 500 women and children are among those trapped in rebel areas, which cover just a fraction of Homs city.

Among them is Dutch priest Frans van der Lugt who joined an Internet appeal launched by activists, describing the situation in the neighbourhoods as "intolerable".

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