Syria Agrees to Evacuate Besieged Families From Homs

Assad regime says it is ready to help civilians leave the restive city, blames rebels for obstructing efforts to do so; Jordan ends open-border policy for Syrian refugees.

Syria's government said Tuesday it was ready to act on a UN call to evacuate civilians who have been trapped in the rebellious central city of Homs for more than a week, but blamed rebels for obstructing efforts to do so.

Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, chief of the UN observer mission in the country, has told both sides of the conflict to allow safe passage from the city and other combat zones to women, children and sick people.

A Foreign Ministry statement carried by state-run news agency SANA said the government has contacted the UN mission and local authorities in Homs to start efforts to bring out the trapped civilians.

"But the efforts of the UN monitors' mission failed in achieving this goal because of the armed terrorist groups' obstructions," the statement said. It charged that armed groups were using innocent civilians as "human shields."

The Syrian government regularly refers to the rebels as terrorists.

There was no immediate comment from the UN mission.

On Sunday, Mood said the observers had been trying for the past week to bring out families and wounded trapped in Homs by regime shelling of rebel-held areas. The offensive is part of a broader push by President Bashar Assad's forces to regain rebel-held areas nationwide.

Activists say around 1,000 families have been trapped by ongoing government assaults in Homs. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says dozens of wounded people who could not get medicine or doctors to treat them were stuck there and in other rebel-controlled areas.

On Saturday, the UN said its 300 observers based in Syria were suspending all missions because of concerns for their safety after fighting intensified over the previous 10 days. But the monitors said they would remain in Damascus.

Jordan ends open-border policy for Syrians

Meanwhile, Jordan says it has toughened its screening procedures for Syrian refugees as the number of individuals submitting false asylum claims is on the rise.

A government official said Tuesday that individual Syrian males with residency permits elsewhere are barred entry. He said dozens coming from third countries have been turned back over the past few weeks.

The Interior Ministry estimates some 125,000 Syrians are in the country. Some cross the border directly and others enter by air via the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, or elsewhere.

The official said Jordan is concerned over a larger influx of individuals seeking to take advantage of its open border policy. He insisted on anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.