Women and children trapped in Syria's central city of Homs are to be allowed to leave, says the UN-Arab mediator at talks between Syria's factions in Geneva, Lakhdar Brahimi. Prisoner releases are also on the agenda.
Brahimi said Sunday that "hopefully" women and children as well as "other civilians" would on Monday leave Homs' rebel-held Old City, which has been surrounded for months by government forces.
The Geneva talks, which brought together delegations of Syria's opposition and government, also touched on Sunday on the thousands of people jailed, kidnapped or missing across Syria.
"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 in Geneva.
"Hopefully starting tomorrow [Monday], women and children will be able to leave the Old City in Homs," he said.
Homs activists want 'guarantees'
The news agency AFP said activists inside Homs were asking for "guarantees" that Assad's administration would not detain anyone evacuated.
"We are calling for significant amounts of food and medical supplies, and for guarantees that women, children and wounded people evacuated from Homs' besieged areas will not be detained," said Abu Rami, spokesman for the Syrian Revolution General Commission activist network.
Homs - epicenter of conflict
Homs was one of the first cities that fell into armed conflict in 2011 during an uprising against Assad. Most residents fled, but hundreds of besieged families remained in Homs' Old City, enduring near-daily shelling and the barest of supplies.
A senior US official, speaking anonymously, said the Assad regime had been blocking all convoys to Homs "for months."
"The situation in Homs is extremely urgent. Anything the government says to the contrary is false," the US official told Associated Press.
Visiting Geneva, Syrian deputy foreign minister Faysal Mekdad said President Bashar al-Assad's government was also "ready" to allow humanitarian aid into Homs. He blamed rebel forces for blocking them in the first place.
Mood of 'mutual respect'
Brahimi conceded that 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.
Brahimi said he would meet the two sides jointly on Monday, when they are expected to discuss opposition demands for the creation of a transitional governing body.
The Western-backed opposition, made up largely of exiled Syrians, says Assad has lost legitimacy and can no longer lead a country.
But Assad's government says the rebellion is rife with "terrorists" and that Assad is the only person able to end the fighting.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said some rebel-held districts in Homs came under attack Sunday morning by mortars fired by Syrian government forces.
Heavy fighting also continued Sunday in the Qadam neighborhood on the southern fringe of Damascus, where at least 35 rebels and government troops were killed the previous day, according to the observatory.
ipj/ccp (AP, Reuters, AFP)