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Syria to participate in 2nd round of peace talks

By Salma Abdelaziz and Mariano Castillo, CNN
updated 8:40 PM EST, Fri February 7, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: First buses with evacuees leave Homs
  • Syria says it will participate in 2nd round of peace talks
  • Women, children, elderly to get a chance to leave Homs, with aid to arrive
  • The Syrian conflict is nearly 3 years old

(CNN) -- Syria's government said on Friday that it will participate in a second round of peace talks in Geneva, the state-run SANA news agency reported.

"Restoring security and stability to Syria makes it necessary to discuss putting an end to terrorism and violence as stated in Geneva Communique and underlines the need for agreement of both Syrian sides on that for protecting the Syrian citizens and stopping the Syrian bloodshed at the hands of regionally and internationally-backed armed terrorist groups," said Deputy Foreign and Expatriates Minister Dr. Faisal Mikdad.

The talks will build upon the first round of discussions, he said. The Syrian conflict, which has left more than 100,000 people dead and millions more displaced, has raged for nearly three years.

Meanwhile, at least 200 people are expected to be evacuated from the besieged city of Homs, according to the Homs governor, SANA reported.

The evacuations are due to take place in the neighborhood of Jouret al-Shiah towards al-Mimas area, Homs Gov. Talal al-Barazi said.

All necessary arrangements for evacuating civilians, including children, women, wounded and elderly people, in the old Homs neighborhoods were completed, SANA reported.

Under the agreement, a cease-fire will go into effect and women, civilians over 55, and children under 15 can choose to leave the Old City if they agree not to take up arms against the government.

The first buses carrying 83 evacuees left the Old City on Friday, the local provincial governor said. These civilians received medical checkups and will be transferred to the location of their choice, al-Barazi said.

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Malnourished children dying in Syria
In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war: In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war:
Syrian civil war in photos
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After the first group of evacuations, Syrian troops will clear the way for a U.N. aid convoy packed with food and medicine to enter the area for the first time in more than a year, according to opposition spokesman Abu Rami.

"We have nothing to give the families," he told CNN via Skype from the Old City of Homs. "We are crippled because of the lack of food and medicine, which especially affects the women, children, and the elderly, so for the sake of the public good, we must agree to this cease-fire."

According to SANA, the government would provide shelter, food and medical treatment to people who leave the Old City. In addition, the agreement calls for government forces to allow humanitarian assistance to people who remain in the besieged area, SANA reported.

Valerie Amos, the U.N. emergency relief coordinator, said the cease-fire agreement would mean essential supplies for about 2,500 people in Homs.

"What we're waiting for is a green light to be given by the parties for safe passage," said Farhan Haq, a spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

In Washington, Psaki called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government to follow through on allowing U.N. convoys to enter Homs, adding that "an evacuation is not a substitute for the safe, regular, and unfettered delivery of humanitarian assistance to those in need wherever they are."

"We should not be giving credit to a regime just for providing food for a few days to people who are starving, given that's the right moral thing to do, and this is something they should have been doing all along," Psaki said.

Asked about concerns that the Syrian regime might be preparing for a final assault on those who remain in Homs once the other civilians depart, Psaki refused to speculate but said it was important for the U.N. convoys to get access to the Old City.

READ: State media: Evacuations are expected in Homs, governor says

READ: Kerry: Fresh barrel bomb attack shows Syrian regime's 'true colors'

READ: Syrian children dying of hunger

CNN's Joe Sterling and Tom Cohen contributed to this report.

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