Homs aid delayed as fighting flares in besieged city

DAMASCUS (AFP) - The Syrian regime and rebels accused each other of breaking a humanitarian truce on Saturday in Homs as the United Nations was poised to deliver aid to civilians trapped in the central city.

The regime and opposition blamed each other for clashes that erupted in the morning, with activists inside Homs accusing government forces of targeting the road that aid would come in on.

The violence came a day after 83 children, women and elderly people were evacuated following more than 600 days trapped in the war-battered Old City of Homs.

The evacuation and aid delivery were made possible by a surprise UN-brokered deal between the government and rebels to observe a three-day "humanitarian pause" in hostilities.

But five explosions were heard at 8:30 am (0530 GMT) in the besieged neighbourhoods, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

"The armed terrorist groups broke the truce this morning in the Old City of Homs by launching mortar rounds at the police headquarters in the Saa area," said provincial governor Talal al-Barazi.

Military commanders were told to exercise maximum restraint "to allow the evacuation of civilians", state news agency SANA quoted him as saying.

But activists accused regime forces of breaking the truce.

"The besieged areas have been pounded with mortar rounds since Saturday morning," the Unified Media Office activist group in the besieged areas of Homs said.

"The shelling is also targeting the road on which the humanitarian aid is supposed to be transported," it said.

It claimed the firing came from pro-regime majority Alawite areas bordering districts under siege.

"Besieged neighbourhoods, particularly those close to Hamadiyeh where the aid convoys are due to enter, have been targeted by mortar fire from pro-government areas," said an activist in the Old City, who gave his name only as Yazan.

The exiled opposition expressed concern the promised aid delivery could be aborted, saying it would be "devastating to those innocent civilians who remain within the area under siege."

"We call on the world to look carefully at what happens in Homs in the coming hours and days." The truce had eluded mediators in last month's fruitless first round of peace talks in Switzerland, which are due to resume Monday in Geneva.