Tidbits of Arabic News translated into English

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Siege of Homs

(February 10-13, 2014)

The first time I remember seeing the UN in the news was during the war in Kosovo. Now that the UN is involved with evacuating people in Syria, it reminds me of that time. It is nice that when two or many groups are fighting, everyone (except for those who shoot at them) is willing to allow humanitarian workers to separate the innocent from the fighters.

As the evacuation of the Syrian city Homs extended over several days (and is still on-going), the BBC Arabic spent a lot of time covering it. They talked about it every hour, and with different people.

This man has just left the siege, and is showing off his rations to the camera-man, who is simply another man leaving the siege and catching the moment with his own camera. Says the bearded man: they gave us a bottle of olive oil! Am I supposed to drink it? Says the camera-man: no, you're going to make fried eggplants with it.

Another camera-man caught up with this lady and her daughter. The lady was distraught and crying, because her son Wisaam had disappeared. Where did you see him last? asks the camera-man. The mom is too disoriented to know, she just shakes her shoulders helplessly. Pretty soon, her daughter starts crying, too. Wisaam!!! screams the mom. Wisaam!!! cries the girl in echo. Wisaam! shouts the camera-man. Wisaam! screams the mom in despair again. Wisaam! cried the girl, her voice hoarse. I hope they found the boy.

Here are Homs residents being taken away by bus.

Here is a girl sitting and waiting with her turquoise book-bag.

But even though some people are being evacuated, I think they said that there's hundreds of thousands of people inside the besieged area.

The UN and Red Crescent people organizing the evacuation said the circumstances were dire in the Homs Old City, that there were people who had not eaten meat for two years. The siege has last a year and a half.

This man had just been evacuated, and spoke live to the BBC Arabic from Homs via Skype.
He said that upon evacuation, they were given some fruit and coke. The sound was too distorted for me to understand much. But I think he said he was at one point stuck or captured or something. And then the UN people monitoring the situation caught wind of what was happening, and helped him get unstuck and uncaptured. The man said, "yes, walahi, the UN did ..."

Here are Red Crescent people taking people out on stretchers:

Here are the UN and Red Crescent people making sure everyone is getting something to eat and to drink:

The Red Crescent people wear the red, and the UN people the blue.

But it was not a perfect operations. First, I think the humanitarian workers were shot at by unknown snipers at one point, so they had to pause.

Second, the Syrian government put restrictions on who got to go free, at the last minute. All women, young children, and old people were free, but boys older than 15 years, and all men younger than 65 were not. I think that caught everyone by surprise.

The men who did not meet the conditions were taken to a school, where the Syrian government stood guard over them. The UN did not like that, so it sent its own people to the school to keep an eye on things and make sure no one was mistreated. I think they said that the UN managed to get 100 of those men released, but there's lots more. In fact, I think I heard them say that 300,000 people were stuck in that school, but I probably heard that part wrong.

Here's a World Food Programme worker surrounded by the evacuees, conferencing with his colleague driving the car:

Blurry line of UN cars coming through:

A Red Crescent ambulance:

A UN worker talking with the BBC:

A UN car coming at full speed, as you can see by the streak of dust behind it. The blue UN flag is flying from the car. Those cars would come at full speed, stopping just before they rammed into the throng of people at the other end of the empty road. I wondered why. Maybe they are crossing a no-man's land where the aid workers and evacuees are being shot at, and they have to move fast.

And that is the sad story of the Homs evacuation, as told by the BBC Arabic.

The last I heard, the UN halted the evacuation, because they did not like all those men between ages 15 and 65 being sent to the school and kept there.

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