Three buses brought 83 people — most of them older men — out of the center of the besieged Syrian city of Homs on Friday, Los Angeles Times reporter Patrick McDonnell tells All Things Considered host Melissa Block.
As NPR's Alice Fordham reminds us from Beirut, "after months of wrangling," the government of President Bashar Assad and rebels agreed Thursday on a plan to allow some civilians to leave Homs and some humanitarian aid to get in. The plan, she says, is that "people under the age of 15 or over 55, and all women, will be able to leave the area safely. ... Two or 3,000 people live in the rebel-held area. They have been surrounded by soldiers for two years."
Reuters calls the deal on evacuations and aid, "the first positive result of peace talks which were launched two weeks ago between Syria's warring foes and resume on Monday in Geneva, with little prospect of resolving core grievances behind a war which has killed 130,000 people."
McDonnell was among a group of reporters brought to Homs to observe the evacuations. He said that those who were taken out today, which included a small number of women and children but were mostly men in their 50s or 60s, "appeared certainly haggard, but they didn't have that gaunt look of starvation. They weren't in great shape. They were cold and happy to have a meal, which they got immediately upon being evacuated. ... They spoke about a very difficult life indeed under siege inside the old city of Homs."
The evacuees told reporters of "constant sniping" in the city, heavy shelling and relatively little food, McDonnell added. "They lived a very difficult life. ... There hasn't been an aid convoy since May 2012."
Shelters, McDonnell said, have reportedly been set up for them by the Assad regime in "safe areas." The evacuees are also supposed to be allowed to travel elsewhere if they wish — perhaps to be with relatives or to refugee camps in neighboring countries.
Evacuations are supposed to continue over the next few days, with perhaps 1,500 to 2,000 people allowed to leave the city, McDonnell reported.
Much more from the conversation with McDonnell is due on Friday's All Things Considered. Click here to find a NPR station that broadcasts or streams the show.