Syria Says Ready to Evacuate Civilians From Bombarded Homs

Posted June 19th, 2012 at 5:45 am (UTC-5)
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Syria says it is ready to act on a U.N. appeal to evacuate civilians from the rebellious central city of Homs, which government forces have bombarded since early June to try to crush a 15-month anti-government uprising.

The Syrian foreign ministry said Tuesday it has contacted U.N. observers in the country and local authorities to try to arrange an evacuation from Homs, where opposition activists estimate 1,000 families have been trapped. But, the government said the observers' efforts failed due to obstruction from armed terrorist groups – its term for rebels leading the revolt. The Syrian statement also accused rebels of using Homs civilians as “human shields.”

U.N. observer chief Robert Mood has appealed to Syrian government and rebel forces to allow women, children and the wounded to flee Homs and other combat zones. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said dozens of wounded people are stuck in Homs and other rebel-dominated areas without medicine or doctors.

Mood, a Norwegian general, was due to appear at the U.N. Security Council in New York later Tuesday to brief members about the status of his 300-strong observer team, whose work he suspended on Saturday due to Syria's escalating violence.

British Ambassador to the United Nations Lyall Grant said Monday that many Council members will ask General Mood for his view of the mission's prospects for achieving its mandate in light of the conflict. In recent weeks, the unarmed observers have been caught up in several shooting and bombing incidents that damaged U.N. vehicles but caused no injuries to U.N. personnel.

The U.N. Security Council agreed to send the mission to Syria in April to monitor government and rebel compliance with a U.N.-backed cease-fire agreement, but the truce never took hold. The observers' 90-day mandate expires on July 20. Grant said he does not rule out ending the mission before then.

Syrian rights activists said fighting across the country killed at least 79 people Monday, most of them civilians. The casualties could not be independently confirmed.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a joint statement Monday calling for an “immediate cessation of all violence” in Syria. The two leaders met on the sidelines of a Group of 20 summit in Mexico. The statement also said Washington and Moscow are “united” in the belief that the Syrian people should have the opportunity to “democratically choose their own future.”

But, Mr. Obama and Mr. Putin did not announce any new initiatives to resolve the Syrian conflict, which has been a source of sharp disagreement between the two powers.

Russia is a longtime ally of Syria and has shielded President Bashar al-Assad from U.N. sanctions sought by Western and Arab powers who oppose his 11-year autocratic rule.