Aid workers scramble to assist people evacuated from Homs during a shaky ceasefire

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. The nightmare for residents still trapped in the Syrian city of Homs - it continued today. Eight groups scrambled to deliver urgently needed food and humanitarian aid while a tenuous ceasefire still held. That ceasefire allowed more than 1,000 people to evacuate the devastated old city section of Homs. But tensions have risen rapidly between government and opposition supporters, with both sides accusing the other of using the truce for their own strategic benefit.

Earlier I got an update on the relief from Wall Street Journal reporter Sam Dagher who is in Homs.

Sam Dagher: Today they managed, in the morning, to take in the bulk of the food, mainly flour and food rations and medical kits. These are things that they were not able to take in on Saturday when the UN and Syrian Red Crescent Convoy was attacked with mortars and snipers. Today they tried to accomplish that bit - excuse me, a bus is passing through. This is a bus that just pulled into this receiving center next to the frontline, evacuating more people from the besieged old quarter. Men, women and children are on the bus right now.

Werman: How often have those buses pulled in from the old city today?

Dagher: So far we've had about 250 people, so now another possibly 50 people, so a total of 300 today, plus almost 1,200 that have been evacuated since Friday. That brings it to a total of 1,500, more or less. Today there was a real fear that they might be attacked again, so what they did is they took these flour bags - I witnessed it out of the Syrian Red Crescent trucks - and put them onto these tows that were pulled by these armored SUVs that belongs to the United Nations.

I could see that the SUV was weighed down by these flour bags and then they affixed UN logos on these tows to tell whoever was targeting them that these are UN convoys, so please do not shoot. You could see the tension and then this convoy went in and it actually came out about an hour ago and it looked like it had delivered its load.

Werman: The food and medicine that went into Homs - who's going to receive that and why would they be staying?

Dagher: These are about 1,000 civilians that may be related to the rebels or people who just don't want to leave their neighborhoods and want to stay. They've chosen to stay and the UN has really pressured the authorities here to allow these people who want to stay, to remain there and for the UN to be able to help them and to take in food and medicine to them.

There's a lot of bad blood. The people are fighting alongside the regime. These are young men here from the Alawite community who have joined paramilitary groups like the National Defense Force. These people have seen their comrades, their loved ones killed by rebels and the war, so they don't want to see food and medicine going to these people. There's a lot of tension and apprehension.

Werman: Yesterday we followed this news of hundreds of men and boys detained right after they were evacuated. The buses that have come in today - have more men been taken in as detainees?

Dagher: Yes. I saw with my own eyes one bus that had about 50 people, so that's going to be another complication for the UN, that more of these guys are coming in.

Werman: All these evacuees who got out of Homs old city, where do they go?

Dagher: Many of them went to a neighborhood west of the city where a lot of the people who have been displaced by the government offensives in Homs have gone. It's not any better, though. It's an area also surrounded by government checkpoints, there are trenches all around, barbed wires, and you have a state of almost partial siege.

Werman: The evacuees today that you've seen on those buses like the one that just pulled in, how do they look?

Dagher: They look tired, exhausted, disheveled, frail, fearful - there's a lot of apprehension because you have to remember, yes, the government promised that they would all be given an opportunity to get to go through amnesty and that they would be free. But obviously there's no trust here. You're talking about a war that's been going on for close to 3 years now, so people are really afraid.

Werman: Sam Dagher with the Wall Street Journal, speaking with us from Homs. Thank you very much for your time.

Dagher: Sure, my pleasure.

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