BEIRUT, Feb 7 (Reuters) - About 200 people are expected to leave a besieged area of the Syrian city of Homs on Friday in the first stage of a humanitarian deal to evacuate civilians and allow aid to be delivered, a regional official said.
Speaking to Syrian state television, Homs governor Talal al-Barazi said the atmosphere was "positive" ahead of the operation which is expected to begin around midday and allow women, children and elderly to leave the besieged old city.
The United Nations welcomed reports of the agreement on Thursday, although Washington questioned the sincerity of the government's intentions.
The siege of the old city has gone on for more than a year and activists say 2,500 are trapped inside the area, struggling with hunger and malnourishment.
They represent only a small fraction of besieged Syrians across the country who are in desperate need of aid.
Barazi said the first group would include children under 15-years-old, men over 55, and women. He said reception centres had been set up to receive and treat people leaving the old city, although those evacuated were free to go wherever they liked.
"We are ready today to receive any number, even it exceeds 400, but according to the United Nations yesterday the expected number is 200, or it could be lower," he said.
"We hope this first step will succeed and will continue tomorrow and after tomorrow and so on to ensure safe exit to all civilians who want to leave the old city."
"The atmosphere is positive," Barazi added.
Delegates from Syria's warring sides met face to face for the first time at the "Geneva 2" peace conference last week, but were unable to agree anything, even a humanitarian deal for Homs that diplomats had hoped could be a relatively easy first step.
A second round of talks is scheduled for next week. (Reporting by Alexander Dziadosz; Editing by Alison Williams)