New hope for some of Syria's trapped and suffering

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Story highlights

  • "I think the government is willing to make it happen," Brahimi says of Homs exit
  • "I'm afraid there isn't much to report," U.N. envoy says of Geneva talks
  • Syria wants a list of men looking to leave Homs
  • U.S. resumes nonlethal aid to unarmed Syrian opposition groups

It's considered the capital of the Syrian uprising. It's been one of the most beleaguered cities in the nearly three-year conflict. The full death toll can't be known, and the scale of human suffering is hard to fathom amid the government's assault and rebel fighting in the city.

But Monday, some people in the old city of Homs had reason to hope that they might be able to flee soon.

At talks in Geneva, 1,800 miles (3,000 kilometers) away, the Syrian government and rebels were talking about the possibility of women and children being allowed to leave.

"I think the government is willing to make it happen, but it's not easy because there are snipers and (other problems)," U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said.

The Syrian government requested a list of names of male civilians who want to leave Homs -- an idea unlikely to sit well with opposition groups.

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And Brahimi acknowledged that there were no big developments to discuss.

"I'm afraid there isn't much to report," he said.

    It's unclear whether the gathering in Geneva will ultimately prove productive.

    Syria submitted a document of basic principles for the talks, which the opposition rejected, state-run Syrian TV said Monday. The document stated that Syrian sovereignty should be respected and demanded that other countries stop providing weapons, training and refuge for fighters, and inciting terrorism, state TV said.

    There was already a communique that brought the different sides to the talks.

    Opposition groups have long called on the Syrian government to halt its relentless attacks on rebel-controlled areas.

    U.S. resumes aid

    The United States, meanwhile, was set to resume deliveries of nonlethal aid to Syrian opposition groups.

    The supplies -- communications equipment and other nonlethal aid -- for now are being delivered only to unarmed opposition groups, but deliveries could resume to others soon, two U.S. officials said Monday.

    The aid was stopped in December after Islamist militants raided a warehouse held by the Western-backed Free Syrian Army. It is being restarted because rebels have taken measures to strengthen security and prevent supplies from being diverted to extremists, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

    The aid is being sent through Turkey, and delivery is being coordinated by the Free Syrian Army, according to the officials.

    Homs is one of the cities most in need.

    "The regime is blocking all convoys of aid to Homs and has been doing so for months," a senior U.S. official at the talks in Geneva said. "The U.N., with the Red Cross, has been trying to get these aid convoys through to the city of Homs; the regime is blocking it. The situation is extremely urgent. Anything the regime says to the contrary is wrong."

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    "We welcome the initiative from Geneva" to allow women and children to leave Homs, Red Cross spokeswoman Dibeh Fakhr in Geneva said.

    But, she added, "a one-shot evacuation will not solve all the problems on the ground. There is a very crucial need to allow impartial humanitarian aid into the old city of Homs."

    More than 100,000 Syrians have been killed in the conflict and millions of people have become refugees. The fighting has also had a destabilizing effect on the wider region.

    Opposition groups have pressed for the conversation to switch to the subject of political transition in Syria.

    But while the opposition and the United States insist that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad play no role in a transitional government, his regime insists he is a strong leader fighting "terrorists" responsible for the violence.

    Even as they gather in Geneva, it seems the Syrian government and rebels are no closer together on the biggest questions that could make or break a future peace deal.

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