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U.N. welcomes reported Homs humanitarian deal, U.S. sceptical

The United Nations on Thursday welcomed reports that an agreement had been reached to allow the evacuation of civilians from the besieged Syrian city of Homs as well as the delivery of aid, while Washington voiced scepticism about the government's intentions.

The United Nations made clear that it was not a party to the deal and while it was ready to send in aid, it did not yet have the go-ahead from the government and opposition sides in Syria's war to move on the reported agreement.

"The United Nations and humanitarian partners had pre-positioned food, medical and other basic supplies on the outskirts of Homs ready for immediate delivery as soon as the green light was given by the parties for safe passage," U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said in a statement.

Syria earlier said it reached a deal to allow "innocent" civilians to leave the rebel-held old city of Homs, potentially the first positive result after last week's deadlocked peace talks in Switzerland.

But U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power questioned the sincerity of the Syrian government's intentions.

"Given that the regime, up to this point, has described just about anybody living in opposition territory as a terrorist – and has attacked them as such – you know, we have reason on the basis of history to be very sceptical," she said in New York.

Power added that Washington was "very concerned about anybody who falls into regime hands who comes from a part of the country that has been under opposition control."

The government's announcement came hours after rebels declared a new offensive in the northern province of Aleppo in response to an escalated air assault by government forces trying to recapture territory and drive residents out of opposition-held areas.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces have used siege tactics to surround and try to starve out rebels holding strategic areas, a technique increasingly copied by rebels as well.

The siege of the old city of Homs has gone on for over a year, and activists say 2,500 people are trapped inside the area struggling with hunger and malnourishment. They represent only a small fraction of besieged Syrians across the country in desperate need of aid. (Reuters) 

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