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Syria: 'Women And Children Free To Leave Homs'
The Syrian government has agreed to allow women and children safe passage from the besieged, rebel-held city of Homs, says UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi.
Mr Brahimi announced the news at the end of the second day of negotiations at the Syria peace talks in Geneva, Switzerland.
"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," he told reporters.
"Hopefully starting tomorrow, women and children will be able to leave the old city in Homs."
Homs, one of the first cities to rise against President Bashar Assad, had a pre-war population of one million, but most residents have fled.
Activists say about 800 families are trapped in the rubble-strewn city, without regular access to food, medicine and basic necessities.
"The regime is blocking all convoys to Homs and has been doing so for months," said a senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the peace talks.
"The situation in Homs is extremely urgent. Anything the government says to the contrary is false."
Mr Brahimi, an Algerian diplomat representing the UN and Arab League, acknowledged that the agreement to free women and children fell short of his hope of sending aid convoys into the city.
But, he said, "to bring Syria out of the ditch in which it has fallen will take time."
He said he was pleased with the general tone of talks between Syria's regime and opposition leaders, and was hopeful of a breakthrough in the nearly three-year-old civil war.
"Now we are approaching a solution - at least for the civilians," said Mr Brahimi.
"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."
The deal is being seen as the first tangible - if limited - sign of progress in talks aimed at ending a war which has so far claimed 130,000 lives and made two million people refugees.
The talks have yet to touch upon Mr Assad's future.
The thorniest topic - a possible transitional government - will not come up until at least Monday, Mr Brahimi said.
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