Red Cross hopes to enter Homs as Syria boils

04 March 2012 - 14:36
By Reuters

The Red Cross hoped to deliver vital aid to the Syrian city of Homs on Sunday but troops were still stopping it getting through despite government permission, three days after rebels were flushed out of their besieged stronghold.

"We have the green light, we hope to enter, we hope today is the day," said the International Committee of the Red Cross's Damascus-based spokesman Saleh Dabbakeh, declining to give further details about what he said were sensitive talks with Syrian officials.

"We are very concerned about the people in Baba Amro," he said, referring to the isolated Homs neighbourhood.

After a month of bombardment by President Bashar al-Assad's forces, concerns mounted for freezing, hungry and wounded civilians in Homs. Opposition activists said aid workers were being kept out so they do not see Syrian army "massacres".

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday said he had received "grisly reports" troops were executing and torturing people in Homs after insurgents abandoned their positions.

South of Homs, the border town of Qusair came under shelling by government forces that forced residents to flee on foot to neighbouring Lebanon, a Reuters witness said.

"The people said they were sat at home and suddenly the shelling started and they fled. They said it was tank shelling and gunfire," said Reuters reporter Afif Diab.

He spoke at the border to what he said were mainly women fleeing with their children. Blasts could be heard from the Lebanese border, which is some 12 km (7 miles) from Qusair.

Activists also reported heavy shelling in the town of Rastan, north of Homs, where rebels have been hiding.

"Residents told me that shelling started early this morning shortly after helicopters and spotter planes were seen above the town," said Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Clashes between Free Syrian Army defectors and Syrian troops were also reported in Jebel al-Zawiya in Syria's north.


The outside world has proved powerless to halt the killing in Syria, where repression of initially peaceful protests against Assad's rule sparked an insurrection by army deserters and others.

The government says it is fighting foreign-backed "terrorists" it blames for killing hundreds of soldiers and police across the country.

The United Nations says Syrian security forces have killed more than 7,500 civilians since the revolt against the Assad family's four decade rule began in March last year.

In neighbouring Lebanon, hundreds of soldiers and scores of military trucks and jeeps blocked off the centre of Beirut early on Sunday ahead of planned protests for and against Assad, whose ruling clan are Alawites, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

Lebanon is mainly made up of Shi'ites, Sunnis and Christians, and is home to the powerful Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah, which is backed by Shi'ite Iran.

Sunni Arab states Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been among the loudest calling for Assad's downfall, and have even suggested arming Assad's opponents.

"There will be two protests," said a Lebanese soldier in Beirut who declined to be named.

"The army has created a line of military vehicles to prevent the two from meeting. We won't allow any violence and we won't allow them to clash."

Former Syrian ally Turkey said Assad was guilty of "war crimes" while China, which has so far has backed Assad, said it was "deeply worrying that the situation in Syria remains grave".

China, which along with Russia, has twice vetoed U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning Damascus, urged government and rebels to end the violence and start talks, but again said it opposed foreign military intervention.

"We oppose anyone interfering in Syria's internal affairs under the pretext of 'humanitarian' issues," said a foreign ministry statement carried by Xinhua news agency.