Syrian Rebels Retreat From Besieged Stronghold

Posted March 1st, 2012 at 8:55 am (UTC-5)
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Most of Syria's rebel fighters have pulled out of the besieged Baba Amr district of Homs after a months-long military assault by President Bashar al-Assad's security forces.

A Syrian security official told the French News Agency that the area is under control of the military. Activists say Syrian forces have moved into the neighborhood and only a few rebel army defectors remained behind.

AFP quotes the head of the Free Syrian Army, Colonel Riyadh al-Assad, as saying the rebels “have pulled out tactically in order to protect the remaining civilians” in the area, which has seen 27 straight days of bombardment.

In Paris, the head of the opposition Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun, told reporters the group has formed a military council to organize the resistance against Mr. Assad's forces. He said the move was coordinated with armed opposition forces in Syria, including the Free Syrian Army.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Human Rights Council condemned what it calls “widespread and systematic violations of human rights” by the Syrian government and reiterated the “urgent” need to address the humanitarian situation in the country.

At a session Thursday in Geneva, the council adopted a resolution calling on President Assad's government to immediately halt “all human rights violations” and attacks against civilians. It highlighted the recent deaths of Syrian and foreign journalists, as well as interference in people getting access to medical care.

Russia, China and Cuba voted against the measure.

The U.S. envoy to the council, Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, said there is an “overwhelming international consensus” on the humanitarian crisis in Syria, and that “the vote speaks for itself.”

Russia and China have twice vetoed U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning the Syrian government for its deadly crackdown on a nearly year-long opposition uprising.

Kuwaiti officials said Thursday Arab foreign ministers will meet with Russia's top envoy, Sergei Lavrov, next week in Riyadh to discuss the Syrian crisis. Britain said Thursday it had withdrawn all of its diplomatic personnel from Syria because of security concerns.

Syria's foreign ministry said it is willing to discuss a date for U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos to visit. She said Wednesday Syria had rejected her repeated requests to assess the growing crisis.

Kofi Annan, the newly-appointed U.N.-Arab League joint envoy for Syria, said Wednesday he will soon travel to Syria to push President Assad to engage in dialogue with the opposition.

The U.N. says more than 7,500 people have been killed since the revolt began last March. Syrian officials blame the uprising on foreign-backed armed “terrorists” who, the government says, have killed more than 2,000 security personnel.