United Nations members arrive in a besieged neighborhood of Homs to supply humanitarian aid on Feb. 8, 2014.Thaer Al Khalidiya/Reuters
Mortars were fired early Saturday in Syria’s besieged city of Homs, violating a cease-fire that was intended to allow the evacuation of civilians and delivery of aid to people trapped in central neighborhoods, activists and officials said.
It was not immediately clear if there were casualties from the firing, which each side blamed on the other. One report said aid workers were wounded.
The opposition Shaam News Network said the mortar fire had coincided with the entry of two U.N. cars, accompanied by rebel forces, into the besieged districts. It said some of the mortar rounds targeted an area on the edge of Homs, near the place where negotiations over the aid operation were taking place. The network blamed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces for the barrage.
State news agency SANA quoted Homs governor Talal al-Barazi as saying "armed terrorist groups broke the truce this morning in the Old City of Homs, firing mortars at the police building." Syrian authorities routinely describe all armed opposition against President Bashar al-Assad as “terrorism.”
A U.N. convoy with food and medical supplies appeared to be able to reach the Old City despite the shelling and deliver its first shipment of aid to the district, according to Syrian state-owned TV.
The state-owned station also said that four Red Crescent workers were wounded by opposition fighters.
Syrian forces loyal to Assad have prevented the entry of food and medical aid into rebel-held parts of the city for more than a year, badly affecting hundreds of civilians in the areas. An agreement had called for a three-day truce to allow the evacuation of some civilians and the entry of food shipments.
On Friday 83 civilians were evacuated from central Homs. Aid workers said some of them showed signs of malnutrition after living under siege for a year and a half in one of the strongholds of the 2011 uprising against Assad – a movement that became an armed insurgency after Assad’s forces cracked down on protests.
Around the same time Saturday, Syrian military aircraft dropped barrel bombs on rebel-held areas in the northern city of Aleppo, killing at least 15 people.
The Aleppo bombings are a key part of a weeks-long campaign by Assad's forces to wrest control of the city, parts of which were seized by rebels in mid-2012.
Activists say the massive barrel bombs often clear the way for a government advance. But the crude weapons — cylinders packed with explosives and shrapnel, usually dropped from helicopters — cannot be targeted precisely and have killed hundreds of civilians.
Over the past few months, the toll on people not directly involved in fighting has worsened as rebels and government forces destroy towns and sections of cities in their battle for control of the country. Many Syrians have trouble accessing food and water, leading to a burgeoning refugee crisis as many flee for neighboring Lebanon and other countries as far away as the United States and Europe.
Al Jazeera and wire services