Red Crescent blocked from Homs district

ICRC president calls obstruction of emergency mission to Bab Amr “unacceptable” as reports of violence continue.

Red Crescent to enter Bab Amr


The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said that it was unable to enter the Homs district of Bab Amro on Friday, where it had hoped to bring in aid and evacuate the sick and wounded.

“The ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent Society [SARC] were not allowed to enter the Bab Amr district of Homs today,” Jakob Kellenberger, ICRC president, said in a statement issued in Geneva on Friday.

“It is unacceptable that people who have been in need of emergency assistance for weeks have still not received any help. We are staying in Homs tonight in the hope of entering Bab Amr in the very near future. In addition, many families have fled Bab Amr, and we will help them as soon as we possibly can.”

Syrian authorities had given the independent agency a “green light” on Thursday to enter on Friday, the statement said without providing further details on what had prevented their humanitarian operation to start.

Violence continues

Earlier in the day, Syrian activists had accused government forces of carrying out execution-style killings and burning homes in a restive neighbourhood in the city of Homs, while the Red Cross headed to the area following a bloody, month-long siege to dislodge rebel forces.

France said on Friday it is closing its embassy in Syria, a day after two French journalists escaped after being trapped for days in the central city of Homs. The United States and Britain already have closed their embassies in Syria.

Syrian forces retook control of the district, called Bab Amr, on Thursday, and there were growing fears of revenge attacks after the rebels withdrew. The Red Cross reached Homs, but had yet to enter Bab Amr.

Bassel Fouad, a Syrian activist who fled to Lebanon from Bab Amr two days ago, said a colleague there told him on Friday that Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen, known as shabiha, were conducting house-to-house raids.

“The situation is worse than terrible inside Bab Amr,” Fouad said. “Shabiha are entering homes and setting them on fire.”

His colleague said the gunmen lined 10 men up early on Friday and shot them dead in front of a government cooperative that sells subsidized food. He said Syrian forces were detaining anyone over the age of 14 in the three-story

“They begin at the start of a street and enter and search house after house,” he said. “Then they start with another street.”

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also said it had received reports of 10 people slain in front of a co-op and called on the Red Cross team heading to Homs to investigate claims by residents the building is
being used a prison. Another group, the Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC), said 14 were killed.

The claims could not be independently verified. Information from inside Bab Amr has been difficult to obtain in recent days. Activists elsewhere in the city said those in Bab Amr stopped using satellite connections for fear the government could use them to target strikes. Others accuse the government of scrambling signals.

The central city of Homs, Syria’s third largest, has emerged as a key battleground in the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad that began in March 2011. Activists said hundreds were killed during the nearly month-long siege, and many lived for days with little food and no electricity or running water.

The UN said it was alarmed by the reports of execution-style killings after the Syrian army seized Bab Amr from rebel forces in a major blow to the opposition.

In Geneva, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the agency had received unconfirmed reports of “a particularly grisly set of summary executions” involving 17 people in Bab Amr after government
forces entered.

Rupert Colville did not provide details but said his office was seeking to confirm the reports and called on both government and rebel forces to refrain from all forms of reprisal.

The Red Cross, meanwhile, sent a convoy of aid trucks to Homs along a snow-covered route from the capital Damascus early on Friday after getting permission from the government.

Khalid Arqsouseh, a spokesman for the Syrian Red Crescent in Homs, said the seven 15-tonne trucks were carrying food, milk powder, medical supplies and blankets.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, called the events in Syria a “scandal”, adding that the European Council “condemned in the harshest terms what is happening in Syria”.

French ambassador Eric Chevallier had only recently returned to Damascus after being recalled to Paris for consultations. He was sent back to help try to get two stranded French reporters out of Syria.

Those reporters flew out of Lebanon on a medically equipped plane on Friday after being smuggled out of Syria the night before.

One of them, Edith Bouvier, was wounded last week in a rocket attack in Bab Amr that also wounded British photographer Paul Conroy and killed American reporter Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik. Another French reporter, William Daniels, was traveling with Bouvier.

Conroy and Spanish reporter Javier Espinosa also were smuggled out of Syria this week.

Activist videos posted online on Thursday purported to show the burials of Colvin and Ochlik in Baba Amr early this week. The Syrian government said it dug up the bodies after taking Bab Amr so they could be repatriated.

The West has stepped up its criticism of Assad’s regime amid mounting reports of atrocities at the hands of security forces.

The US has called for Assad to step down and Hillary Rodham Clinton, the US secretary of state, said he could be considered a war criminal.

Russia reacts

Vladimir Putin, Russia’s prime minister, blasted the West on Friday for backing the Syrian opposition against the government, saying it has fueled the conflict. But his foreign ministry made it clear that it will not be able to
stop other countries from launching a military intervention if they try to do it without UN approval.

 Russia and China supported the council’s demand

Putin called for both Syrian government and opposition forces to pull out of besieged cities to end the bloodshed, adding that Western refusal to make that demand of Assad’s opponents has encouraged them to keep fighting.

“Do they want Assad to pull out his forces so the opposition moves right in?” Putin said at a meeting with editors of top Western newspapers in remarks carried by state television. “Is it a balanced approach?”

Activist groups said protesters took to the streets in towns across Syria on Friday, many of them met with tear gas, gunfire and mass arrests by Syrian security forces.

The Syrian Observatory said 10 people were killed in the town of Rastan near Homs when a mortar landed near marchers. The LCC said 16 were killed in the same event, among 52 reported dead nationwide.

Protesters dubbed Friday the day of “Arming the Free Syrian Army”, reflecting a widening perception that only military action can stop the crackdown on dissent and hasten Assad’s downfall.

Source: News Agencies


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