UN aid convoy struck in Syrian rebel district

The convoy, which was bringing in supplies for civilians, was trapped for several hours.

A United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) worker (R) talks with rebel fighters on February 8 on the second day of a humanitarian mission in a besieged district of the central city of Homs. Picture:AFP.

BEIRUT - An aid convoy came under fire in a besieged rebel district of Homs yesterday threatening a United Nations-led operation to bring food and medicine to 2,500 people and evacuate civilians trapped by months of fighting in the Syrian city.

At least nine Red Crescent and UN vehicles were holed up in the city for several hours after dark when the explosions struck, but the team managed to pull out shortly before 10 pm, leaving two damaged trucks.

Syrian authorities blamed the attacks on rebels but opposition activists accused President Bashar al-Assad's forces of carrying them out, as well as earlier mortar fire which delayed the start of the operation on Saturday morning.

The latest violence threatens to unravel a humanitarian deal for Homs which was the first concrete result of talks launched two weeks ago in Geneva to try to end the country's civil war.

The conflict has killed 130,000 people, driven millions from their homes and devastated whole districts of Syrian cities - particularly Homs, a centre of protest when the 2011 uprising against 40 years of Assad family rule first erupted.

At the Geneva peace talks, which resume on Monday, international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi has been pushing for agreement on aid deliveries and prisoner releases, hoping that progress on those issues could build momentum to address the far more contentious question of political transition.

But even the humanitarian talks have taken time and delivered only modest achievements, the first of which was the evacuation on Friday of 83 women, children and elderly men from the Old City. Aid workers said many showed signs of malnutrition.

Today is due to be the final day of a three-day ceasefire which Russia, a close supporter of Assad, said had been agreed to allow the aid to be brought in and civilians moved out.