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Middle East
Red Crescent medics reach Homs
Aid group says convoy with food and supplies preparing to enter Bab Amr district after 28 days of siege.
Last Modified: 02 Mar 2012 14:56

A Syrian Arab Red Crescent convoy carrying food and aid has reached Homs and is set to enter a besieged district of the city following a retreat by rebels in the face of government shelling and a threatened ground assault.

Seven vehicles that left Damascus on Friday morning had reached the city, said Carla Haddad, the Geneva-based chief spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The convoy was set to link up with more volunteers and ambulances waiting in Homs before entering Bab Amr, a neighbourhood that has been under bombardment for nearly a month.

Abu Abdo Al Homsy, an activist in Homs, told Al Jazeera that residents of the Bab Amr district were awaiting the medics' arrival as intermittent shelling continued. He said government troops had been conducting house-to-house searches. 

"We really would like the Red Cross to bring some aid to the area and we don't really trust the Syrian army," Homsy said.

As government forces took control of Bab Amr, reports began to emerge of executions in the holdout district.

Rupert Colville, spokesman for the United Nation's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the office had been been given information "suggesting a particularly grisly set of summary executions" had taken place on Thursday as regime forces overran the neighbourhood.

Activists have said about 4,000 civilians have remained in Bab Amr. Haddad declined to give an estimates of how many people were believed to be left there.

"We've been very worried in the past days about a worsening humanitarian situation," she said. "We fear the people have great needs, they must be exhausted, they have been cut off from practically everything, food, water, electricity, medical aid, so the priority will be the evacuation of the wounded."

Journalists smuggled to safety

On Thursday evening, rebels and activists reported that Free Syrian Army fighters had withdrawn from Bab Amr in a "tactical retreat". The fighters said they were running out of weapons and wanted to spare civilians from more violence.

They said the district was also suffering communication cuts.

As rebels withdrew from Homs, the conflict was likely to move elsewhere, Al Jazeera's Rula Amin, reporting Beirut, noted.

"Rastan has turned into another safe haven for the rebels," she said. "The fighters who have left Bab Amr, where are they going? Will they find a place to find shelter in? .. It was a safe haven for the defectors."

Homs is Syria's third-largest city and was home to about a million people before the uprising began last year. Bab Amr itself had roughly 100,000 residents, but many have fled.

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Jacques Beres, a French doctor who smuggled himself into Homs to assist with makeshift medical clinics, described the situation in Bab Amr as similar to the devastation he witnessed in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, after the Russian invasion in the 1990s.

Medics with extremely limited supplies can assist with abdominal and limb injuries but do very little for head wounds, said Beres, who has returned to France. He said accounts of torture by doctors in hospitals that have been taken over by the military, including unnecessary amputations, are "probably, almost certainly true".

"I'm afraid that Homs will be kind of an example of other cities that want to rebel," he said.

The last remaining foreign journalists in Homs were smuggled safely to Lebanonon Thursday. French journalists Edith Bouvier and William Daniels, on assignment for the Figaro newspaper, were both injured in a February 22 artillery strike on a makeshift media centre in Bab Amr.

Spanish journalist Javier Espinosa and British photographer Paul Conroy, who was also injured in the attack, escaped to Lebanon on Wednesday.

American reporter Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik were both killed by the same shelling, and activists in Homs said they were both buried on Thursday after it was decided that there was not enough fuel to continue refrigerating their bodies indefinitely.

UN demands access

On Thursday, the United Nations Security Council demanded that UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos be allowed "immediate and unhindered access" to Homs and other parts of Syria.

The council's press statement was supported by Russia and China, which had previously blocked stronger resolutions on Syria.

 Russia and China supported the council's demand

Mark Lyall Grant, the United Kingdom's UN ambassador, read out the statement and cited concern over the "growing number of affected civilians, the lack of safe access to adequate medical services, and food shortages, particularly in areas affected by fighting and violence such as Homs, Hama, Deraa and Idlib".

Amos' request to visit Syria has been rejected by the government, which said the proposed date was not suitable.

Council diplomats said Russia, Syria's closest ally, had urged Assad's government to approve a visit by Amos. In a concession to Russia and China, the statement called on the government and opposition to co-operate with efforts to evacuate the wounded from Syrian cities.

Earlier, the two nations - joined by Cuba - voted against a UN Human Rights Council resolution that condemned Syria for "widespread and systematic violations" against civilians.

The resolution also supported gathering evidence on possible crimes against humanity and other serious abuses, so that those who are responsible can be held to account at a later date.

The United Nations has estimated that more than 7,500 people have been killed since the anti-Assad struggle started in March 2011, when protesters took to the streets in Syria.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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