Teams of the Red Cross and Syrian Arab Red Crescent have reached two neighbourhoods of Homs where they are distributing food and blankets to civilians, including families who have fled the devastated district of Baba Amr, according to humanitarian agencies.
The arrival of relief supplies in Syria’s third-largest city, with about one million inhabitants, came amid reports by activists of shelling and other violence across the country on Sunday, as well as one of the biggest waves of refugees across the border into Lebanon in a single day.
“We are in the neighbourhoods of al-Inshaat and al-Tawzii. Al-Inshaat is the closest neighbourhood to Baba Amr,” Hicham Hassan, a spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), announced in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday.
“Obviously there is the resident population in need of help, as that neighbourhood was also affected by the violence, but it also hosts many families who have fled Baba Amr.”
An ICRC convoy carrying food for “several thousand people” and other relief supplies had also arrived in Homs from Damascus, the second in less than a week, Hassan said.
However, the ICRC has not yet been able to enter the neigbourhood of Baba Amr. The Syrian authorities have granted permission, but the organisations has security concerns.
Conditions in Baba Amr have been described as catastrophic, with reports describing extended power cuts, shortages of food and water, and no medical care for the sick and wounded.
“We hope to get in [to Baba Amr] as soon as possible and we want to get in as soon as possible,” Hassan said.
The developments come against a backdrop of continued assault and widening bombardment by Syrian forces on Homs, activists said.
Artillery also pounded Rastan, an opposition stronghold in the centre of the country, monitors said on Monday.
Elsewhere, an explosion hit an oil pipeline near the town of Quraiya in the eastern province of Deir al-Zor as troops began a military operation in the region, opposition activists said.
They said a bomb appeared to have been detonated near the pipeline, which runs to a coastal refinery on the coast, and smoke could be seen 5km away.
On the diplomatic front, it has been announced that Kofi Annan, the UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria, will travel to Damascus on March 10 for his first visit since being appointed to the post last month, the Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby said on Monday.
“Kofi Annan told me that Syria will receive him on March 10 and that he would arrive in Cairo on March 7,” Nabil Elaraby, the Arab League secretary-general, said at the regional bloc’s Cairo headquarters on Monday.
Annan will be accompanied by his deputy, the former Palestinian foreign minister Nasser al-Kidwa, on their first mission to Syria.
Kidwa, a nephew of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, is a member of Fatah, led by current Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and has previously served as a foreign minister and an envoy to the UN.
The UN humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos, separately announced that Syria had given her permission to visit the country, scheduled for March 7-9.
In another diplomatic development, the president of the UN General Assembly has sharply criticised the UN Security Council over its failure to agree to a resolution on Syria.
Nasser Abdul Aziz al-Nassir, Qatar’s ambassador to the UN, who was elected as president of the General Assembly in 2011, told the UK-based Independent newspaper that there was a need for a “more active and effective UN” and that the ability of just five countries to veto Security Council decisions was a system that could endanger international peace and security.
The General Assembly last month voted overwhelmingly to condemn the Syrian government over its crackdown, but action by the Security Council has been blocked by Russian and Chinese vetoes.
“The world has changed; the UN should also reform itself to deal with the issues of today,” the Independent quoted al-Nassir as saying on Monday.
“Because of disagreement from one or two members who have the right to veto, this sent the wrong message to the government of Syria; that’s why they are not co-operating.”
Qatar has consistently pushed for tougher UN-backed action against Syria and was a co-sponsor of the proposed Security Council resolution that was blocked by Russia and China.
It has also called for Syria’s opposition to be armed and for Arab League troops to be deployed to the country.
China, which had said the resolution would have opened the door to intervention against President Bashar al-Assad’s government, offered a proposal on Sunday to end the violence in Syria, calling for an immediate ceasefire and talks by all parties but standing firm against any intervention by outside forces.
However, the proposal also said “China does not approve of armed interference or pushing for ‘regime change’ in Syria and believes that use or threat of sanctions does not help to resolve the issue”.