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Syria to allow women, children to leave besieged parts of Homs

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The Syrian regime has agreed to allow women and children to leave besieged rebel-held areas of the central city of Homs, UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said Sunday at peace talks in Geneva.

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

"Hopefully starting tomorrow, women and children will be able to leave the Old City in Homs."

He said that as well as women and children, "other civilians are also welcome to leave, but the government needs a list of their names first".

The subject of Homs -- where hundreds of families in the Old City are living under siege with near-daily shelling and the barest of supplies -- has been discussed at length since the two parties started face-to-face talks on Saturday.

"You know that the centre of the city has been under siege for a very, very long time and now I hope that we are approaching a solution for at least the civilians," Brahimi said.

He said talks had also touched on continued efforts to have convoys of humanitarian aid brought into Homs.

"As far as Homs is concerned, there is an agreement now from the armed groups on the inside not to attack an assistance convoy entering Homs," he said.

Brahimi admitted the talks were progressing slowly but said he was pleased with the atmosphere so far.

"I am happy, because in general there is mutual respect and they are aware of the fact that this attempt is important and we must continue. I hope that this mood will continue," he said.

Talks on Sunday also touched on the thousands of people jailed, kidnapped or missing in the country.

Brahimi said the opposition had agreed "they will try to collect a list of names" of people held by rebel forces they control or have contact with, to hand over to the regime to move the process of prisoner exchanges forward.

The opposition has said it wants the talks on Monday to move to the core issue of a political transition.

Brahimi said the talks would become more general.

"This is a political negotiation, everything we discuss is political," he said. "I think tomorrow I expect the two parties to make some general statement about the way forward."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140126/syria-allow-women-children-leave-besieged-parts-homs-1