(WOMENSENEWS)–The first deal reached at the peace talks in Geneva, Switzerland, on Jan. 26 is to allow women and children to leave the besieged districts of the city of Homs.

The announcement was made by the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad.

“I assure you at this second if the terrorists allow the women and children to leave Old Homs, they can leave immediately,” said Faisal Maqdad, Syrian deputy foreign minister, Al Jazeera reported.  “We shall also provide them with shelter and medicine and all the necessities for life.” The government routinely labels opposition groups as terrorists. Little information was available about where those granted safe passage will go.

The rebel-held districts of Old Homs in the center of the city have been besieged by Assad’s troops since June 2012. Thousands of residents there live in dire conditions, amid an acute shortage of food and medicine.

A relief corridor was expected to be open up early this week, Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. envoy and mediator at the talks announced during the talks. Male non-combatants will also be allowed to depart, though only once the names on this list have been scrutinized by the government, The Telegraph reported.

“There are about 800 families, or 5,000 people, under siege here,” a woman who gave her name as Mirna, told The Telegraph by Skype from inside. “Eight people have died from hunger, including four children.” She said that food and medical supplies had run out. “We are under continuous bombardment. Minor injuries lead to death because of the lack of medical equipment.”

The opposition also said it had submitted the names of tens of thousands of people – including thousands of women and children – being held in government-run jails, Al Jazeeera reported.

Maqdad denied that any children were being held.

Rukiya, a woman interviewed by Women’s eNews in Mafraq, Jordan, late last year, bears witness to the conditions under which people in Homs have been struggling to survive. In the following interview, she recounts washing the dead bodies of women as they were brought to her when she was still living in Homs. She eventually fled Syria to find refuge in Jordan.

Rukiya, 33, is married and mother of two children.

This story was produced by Women’s eNews’ three-person multi-media team, led by Dominique Soguel. Videos were produced and translated by Hajer Naili and Touline Habake. This special project, Collateral Damage Syria: Women and Girls Fleeing Violence, was funded by a group of private donors and contributors to the Women’s eNews Catapult online campaign.

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