UN aid chief visits Syria's stricken Baba Amr

Valerie Amos accompanies Syrian Red Crescent into rebel bastion after gov't delayed relief access to former.

By REUTERS
March 7, 2012 20:36
3 minute read.
Syrian man surveys his damaged home [file]

Syrian man surveys his damaged home 390 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Anis Mili)

 
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AMMAN - The UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos accompanied a Syrian Arab Red Crescent team on Wednesday into a former rebel-held district of Homs where dissidents have reported bloody reprisals by President Bashar Assad's forces.

"She went in with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to Baba Amr," an International Committee of the Red Cross spokesman said.

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The Red Crescent team found that most residents had fled the district, where rebels had resisted a 26-day army siege until March 1, ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan said in Geneva.

Amos, who was denied entry to Syria last week, is on a three-day mission to persuade authorities to grant unfettered access for aid workers to needy civilians caught up in violence.

An ICRC convoy has been unable to enter Baba Amr since arriving in Homs on Friday, a day after the district fell.

"The Syrian Arab Red Crescent stayed inside Baba Amr for about 45 minutes. They found that most inhabitants had left Baba Amr to areas that have been already visited by the ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent in the past week," Hassan said.

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The long delay in securing access for relief agencies trying to deliver supplies and evacuate the wounded has fueled international concern about the fate of survivors in Baba Amr.

In the latest of several accounts of killings and other abuses, local activist Mohammed al-Homsi said troops and pro-Assad militiamen had stabbed to death seven males, including a 10-year-old, from one family on Tuesday. "Their bodies were dumped in farmland next to Baba Amr," he told Reuters.

Syrian media curbs make it hard to verify such reports.

Amos went to Homs after seeing Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem in Damascus. He told her Syria was trying to meet the needs of all citizens despite the burdens imposed by "unfair" Western and Arab sanctions, the state news agency SANA said.

Syria's military pursued its crackdown on opponents of Assad elsewhere. Activists said tanks shelled Rastan, a town north of Homs. Troops staged raids in Qara and Yabroud north of Damascus, in the cities of Deir al-Zor and Aleppo, and in Hama province.

The Chinese plan

Syria said on Wednesday it "welcomed" a Chinese plan brought by envoy Li Huaxin to promote a solution to the conflict.

The plan, unveiled in Beijing on Sunday, urges all sides to end violence and cautions against "anyone interfering in Syria's internal affairs under the pretext of 'humanitarian' issues".

Li also met three Syrian opposition leaders whose activities are tolerated by the government.

One of them, Hassan Abdulazim, told Reuters: "We focused on the need to put pressure on the regime and get humanitarian aid to damaged areas in Homs, and the need for China to ... support the Arab League initiative and the United Nations and the international consensus to solve the crisis in Syria."

China is bringing workers home from Syria in an apparent attempt to avoid a repeat of last year's rescue of its nationals from Libya due to violence there.

Air France said it had halted all its flights to Damascus due to worsening security in Syria.

Western leaders have shunned any military intervention in Syria, despite the scale of the bloodletting, fearing an entanglement that could ignite tensions across the Middle East.

The White House said Obama was committed to diplomacy to end the violence, saying Washington wanted to isolate Assad, cut off his sources of revenue and encourage unity among his opponents.

"Ultimately this dictator will fall," Obama said, while rejecting a call by Senator John McCain for a US-led effort to protect Syrian civilians with air strikes on Assad's forces.

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