Syria Blocks Red Cross from Baba Amr for 3rd Straight Day

Posted March 4th, 2012 at 7:20 pm (UTC-5)
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Red Cross teams in Syria delivered relief supplies to areas near the battered Homs district of Baba Amr Sunday, but were blocked for a third straight day from entering the former rebel bastion.

Concerns are mounting for civilians left stranded in Baba Amr. Activists say the entire city of Homs faces a humanitarian catastrophe. Electricity, water and communications have been cut off, and recent days have seen frigid temperatures and snowfall. Food is running low, and many people are too scared to venture out.

Opposition sources said the government is trying to prevent the Red Cross from witnessing “massacres” by Syrian soldiers who are hunting down and killing the remaining rebels.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Friday he had received “grisly reports” that troops were executing and torturing people in Homs after insurgents abandoned their positions following almost a month of near-constant shelling by Syrian forces.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said teams distributed aid to the Baba Amr refugees in villages three kilometers from Homs. But ICRC officials said Syrian troops continued to block aid workers from Baba Amr itself for security reasons.

Syrian rebels taking part in a year-long uprising against autocratic President Bashar al-Assad withdrew from Baba Amr Thursday. ICRC officials said negotiations with Syrian authorities to let the aid convoy into Baba Amr are continuing.

Shelling and other violence continued across Syria, sending one of the biggest surges of refugees across the border into Lebanon in a single day since the revolt against Mr. Assad began last March.

U.N. officials told Reuters that up to 2,000 refugees were in the process of crossing the border, as the military deployed in Beirut to prevent clashes between rival demonstrations of supporters and opponents of the Damascus regime.

Activists said pro-Assad troops shelled the rebel-held town of Rastan, north of Homs, killing seven civilians on Sunday.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal urged Russia to “advise” its ally Syria to stop its deadly crackdown. He reiterated his view that opposition fighters should be armed. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have discussed sending military aid to the Syrian rebels, but the United States and others have cautioned against such a move, fearing a wider conflict.

Still, a senior U.S. senator Sunday called for arming Syria's opposition through the Arab League and suggested the imposition of “no fly” zones against Syrian military forces targeting rebel fighters. Senator Lindsey Graham also said he would support a Senate resolution calling on the U.N. to declare Mr. Assad a war criminal.

There has been little international will for military intervention in Syria.

China called on the Syrian government and opponents to agree on an immediate cease-fire and begin a dialogue to resolve the unrest. But the Chinese foreign ministry cautioned Sunday that humanitarian issues should not be used as a pretext for “foreign interference in Syria's internal affairs.”

China and Russia have vetoed two U.N. Security Council resolutions that would have condemned the Assad government for its deadly crackdown on the opposition revolt. Both nations have said the Council must not take sides in a domestic conflict.

Also Sunday, the bodies of two Western journalists killed in Homs last month were transported by plane from Damascus to Paris.

The United Nations says more than 7,500 people have been killed in the Syrian uprising since it began last March. Syrian officials blame the revolt on foreign-backed armed terrorists whom the government says have killed more than 2,000 security personnel.