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Red Cross Convoy Reaches Syria's Besieged Homs

March 02, 2012

An International Committee of the Red Cross convoy of food and other aid has reached the besieged Syrian city of Homs to deliver desperately needed supplies to civilians in a neighborhood that has been targeted in a government assault for weeks.

The government of Bashar al-Assad gave the go-ahead to the Red Cross after rebels inside Baba Amr announced a "tactical retreat" from the district, saying they were running low on weapons and humanitarian conditions there were unbearable.

The Red Cross said the convoy was expected later in the day to enter the embattled district of Baba Amr, from which rebels retreated on March 1 after more than three weeks of fighting with government forces.

Baba Amr's residents have been without electricity, gas, or new supplies of food since troops launched the siege and shelling. Syrian activists say almost every building in the district is damaged and there are many people in need of medical evacuation.

International Committee of the Red Cross spokesman Hicham Hassan said in Geneva that the convoy was slowed in reaching Homs by winter weather conditions.

"The convoy is including also seven truckloads of assistance, mainly food but other items as well," Hassan said. "The snow sadly slowed down the convoy a bit."

The convoy arrived from Damascus as the United Nations expressed "alarm" over reports of summary executions by Syrian government forces in Homs following the rebel retreat. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said officials could not immediately confirm the reports of executions.

However, the statement said the UN sought to remind Syrian authorities of "their responsibility under international law."

France, meanwhile, has announced it is closing its embassy in Damascus to protest what President Nicolas Sarkozy called the "scandalous" repression by the Syrian regime.

The leaders of the 27 European Union member states, meeting in Brussels on March 2, said they were "horrified" by the atrocities that reports say are taking place in Syria. The bloc said it will work closely with those working to record "these appalling crimes" so that those responsible are held accountable.

Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, however, has accused the West of fueling the Syrian conflict by backing the opposition.

Speaking to a meeting of foreign newspaper editors in Moscow, Putin asked, "Do they want Assad to pull out his forces so the opposition moves right in?"

"Is that a balanced approach?" he asked.

"We are trying to be guided not by what you show or write but by what is taking place in reality. And what is taking place in reality? An armed civil conflict," Putin said. "Our goal is not to aid any particular side, the government or the armed opposition, but to achieve an all-Syrian reconciliation."

Putin called for both Syrian government and opposition forces to pull out of besieged cities to end the bloodshed.

Putin denied that Russia has any "special relationship" with the Syrian regime and also defended the February veto by Russia and China of a United Nations Security Council resolution on the Syria.

Russia is a leading supplier of arms to the Syrian government and operates a naval base at the port of Tartus on Syria's Mediterranean coast.

At the United Nations, the Security Council -- including Russia and China -- has expressed "deep disappointment" at Syria's failure to allow UN humanitarian aid chief Valerie Amos to visit the country and urged that she be allowed to visit the country.

French President Sarkozy has said two journalists who were trapped in Syria are now safely in Lebanon. Edith Bouvier and William Daniels had been struck in the Baba Amr during the month-long siege. Bouvier was wounded last week when government forces targeted a makeshift press center in Baba Amr. Two Western journalists died in that assault.

The UN Security Council estimates that more than 7,500 people -- including around 500 children -- have been killed in the 11-month-old crackdown that has followed an outbreak of Arab Spring-style protests and insurrection.

based on AP and Reuters reporting


Copyright (c) 2012. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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