UN Humanitarian Chief Due in Syria as International Pressure Mounts

Posted March 7th, 2012 at 3:55 am (UTC-5)
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The U.N. humanitarian chief is traveling to Syria Wednesday to push for relief workers to be given access to deliver supplies and evacuate the wounded.

Valerie Amos is scheduled to be in Syria until Friday, and her visit will be followed a day later by former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan, the new special envoy to Syria.

The visits come as international pressure mounts on Syria's government to end a crackdown on a year-long opposition uprising.

The United States said Tuesday it is proposing a new U.N. Security Council resolution to end the violence, while Turkey's leader called for immediate aid access.

“Humanitarian aid corridors to Syria must be opened right away and we must heap pressure on the Syrian administration to deliver humanitarian aid to the Syrian people, especially to Homs. The Arab League decision on Syria must be implemented without wasting any more time.'”

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan also said the violence had “started to resemble an inhumane savagery in recent days” and that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will be “brought to account” for the crackdown.

The new U.S. draft “demands” Syria cease all violence and protect its population while condemning the “continued, widespread and systematic” human rights violations committed by the authorities. It also calls on the armed opposition to “refrain from all violence” once those conditions are met.

Russia and China, powerful allies that blocked a similar U.N. resolution against Syria last month, made clear they are still standing by President Assad's government.

In Washington, President Barack Obama said unilateral U.S. military action against Mr. Assad's government would be a mistake.

On the ground in Syria Tuesday, government troops shelled a village in southern Daraa province and clashed with army defectors. In Homs, activists said security forces carried out raids in an area next to the former opposition stronghold of Baba Amr and reported gunfire and explosions nearby.

The Red Cross said it is still awaiting approval to distribute aid to the devastated district which endured a nearly month-long siege. Residents who fled Baba Amr spoke of bodies decomposing under rubble, sewage mixing with litter in the streets and a campaign of arrests and executions.

Secretly shot video footage aired on Monday by a British television station showed what it said were Syrian patients tortured by medical staff at a state-run hospital in Homs. The video, which Channel 4 said it could not independently verify, showed wounded, blindfolded men chained to beds, some of them with clear torture marks on their bodies.

Also Tuesday, activists said the military blasted a bridge and a tunnel near the Lebanese border used as escape routes for the wounded and refugees fleeing Homs province.

The U.N. refugee agency said at least 9,000 Syrians have fled into Lebanon since Mr. Assad began his bloody crackdown on anti-government protests last year. UNHCR spokeswoman Dana Suleiman told VOA at least 2,000 Syrians crossed the border in recent days to escape violence from the Homs region.

Syria's state-run news agency quoted President Assad Tuesday saying Syrians have proved their determination to pursue reform and fight “foreign-backed terrorism,” which the government blames for the year-long unrest.

The United Nations estimates that violence linked to the uprising has killed at least 7,500 people since it began last March. Syria blames the unrest on “armed terrorist groups” backed by foreign conspirators.