Syria aid teams evacuate 65 civilians from Homs under fire

DAMASCUS (AFP) - Aid teams evacuated at least 65 civilians from besieged districts of Homs city on Sunday, as Syria's regime and rebels again traded accusations over truce violations.

On the political front, the official delegation and members of the opposition were arriving in Geneva for a new round of peace talks scheduled to begin on Monday.

The Homs evacuation was the second in three days, since a United Nations-brokered truce for districts of Syria's third city that are besieged by the army began on Friday.

"Sixty-five civilians, all children, women and elderly men, were evacuated from the Old City of Homs, in compliance with an agreement between the UN and the governor of Homs," the official news agency SANA reported.

State television said the operation took place under fire from "armed terrorist groups", using regime terminology for the rebels.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and activists said fire hit the rebel-held besieged district of Qarabis, where dozens of civilians had gathered to await evacuation by the United Nations.

Activists said a gathering point for civilians was hit by mortar rounds launched from pro-regime districts bordering the besieged neighbourhoods where civilians have been trapped for more than 600 days.

On Saturday, shelling targeted an aid convoy entering the besieged districts, killing five residents and wounding 20, according to the Britain-based Observatory.

On Friday, 83 elderly people, women and children were evacuated from rebel-held districts, where residents have been surviving on little more than wild herbs and olives for months, and aid was delivered on Saturday despite the convoy being shelled.

In other areas of strife-torn Syria, another 300 people were killed on Saturday, according to the Observatory, the latest deaths in a nearly three-year conflict that has killed 136,000 people and displaced millions.

Homs, much of which has been reduced to rubble, was dubbed "the capital of the revolution" by activists before a bloody 2012 offensive by regime forces recaptured much of the city.

The 600-day siege was a key point of discussion during a first round of peace talks in Switzerland last month, but which yielded few concrete results.

On Sunday, the regime delegation arrived for a second round of the so-called Geneva II process, state television said.

"The Syrian Arab Republic's delegation, headed by (Foreign) Minister Walid Muallem, has arrived in Geneva to take part in a second round" of the talks starting on Monday, the broadcaster said.

Sources close to the opposition said that some members of the National Coalition had also arrived in Geneva.

"Some of them have arrived, each one arriving separately. Each member is travelling in from a different country," said one opposition source.

Mr Muallem is set to meet UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi at 7pm in Geneva, a source close to his delegation told AFP.

But the two warring sides appear far from being able to reach any compromise.

While the regime insists that the talks focus on fighting "terrorism" the opposition is demanding that the priority in Geneva be agreement on a transition that excludes President Bashar al-Assad.

Meanwhile, the extreme violence in Syria raged on, a day after some 300 people were killed, including some 20 men executed by loyalists in the central province of Hama, the Observatory said.

In the besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmuk, south of Damascus, a man and a woman died of malnutrition, it said.

Since the army began blockading Yarmuk in June last year, some 80 people have died as a result of food and medical shortages, the Observatory says.