HOMS, Syria — Dozens of people trapped in the historic center of Homs were evacuated Friday as part of a complex deal involving the Syrian government, the United Nations and armed rebels occupying the Old City district.
A total of 83 residents, mostly men but including some women and children, were able to leave in what officials called a successful first day of a plan to provide relief to the long-besieged area. A fragile cease-fire held up during the operation, despite an early violation.
"We had some bumps, but this was a good beginning," said Yacoub Hillo, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Syria, who was at the scene helping to coordinate the relief effort. "In coming days we hope to do more to relieve the suffering of the people of Homs and of Syria."
The plight of the residents of the Old City gained global attention during the Syrian peace talks last month in Geneva. But negotiators in Geneva were unable to work out a deal to evacuate civilians from the district and provide food and other aid to those stranded inside.
Many of those evacuated Friday had been trapped for a year or more inside the rubble-strewn streets of the Old City, where food and other staples were in short supply and the threat of snipers and shelling seldom abated.
"We lived on the edge between life and death," said one evacuee as he and others wolfed down a meal provided by aid workers at a temporary shelter set up outside the district.
No humanitarian assistance had entered Old Homs since May 2012, aid workers said.
A cease-fire had been called for 6 a.m. and was violated when gunfire flared, officials said. It was unclear if anyone was hurt. But the evacuation proceeded.
In coming days, officials said, the hope was to evacuate more residents who want to leave and provide food and humanitarian aid to the remaining residents of the Old City.