Red Cross Prepares to Enter Syria’s Homs

Posted June 20th, 2012 at 7:10 pm (UTC-5)
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The International Committee of the Red Cross says its aid teams are ready to evacuate trapped and wounded civilians from the bitterly contested city of Homs as violence killed at least 53 people across Syria Wednesday.

The ICRC said both sides agreed to its request for a temporary truce so the group can carry out the evacuations and bring in much-needed medical supplies. Hundreds of people are trapped by fighting in the central city's Sunni Muslim neighborhoods.

Teams from the ICRC and its partner, the Syrian Red Crescent, are prepared to enter Homs as soon as possible, but an ICRC spokesman said no evacuations would take place before Thursday at the earliest.

Homs has been at the center of the 15-month revolt against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and became the focus of world concern in February and March, when opposition-held areas endured weeks of government bombardments and sniper fire, killing hundreds.

Rights activists said violence across the country Wednesday killed at least 53 people. Rami Abdelrahman, the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told VOA he fears Syria will become “the new Somalia or the new Afghanistan.”

The Observatory has a network of contacts in Syria including rebels, activists and state security members. Abdelrahman said at least 28 Syrian soldiers, one army defector and 24 civilians and rebels died Wednesday.

He said clashes, shelling and bombings killed Syrians from north of Aleppo, to the southern city of Daraa, to the eastern city of Deir Ezzor and the northwestern province of Latakia. Abdelrahman also reported deaths from attacks in Hama, Idlib and Damascus provinces.

On Tuesday, the head of the U.N. observer mission in Syria said the “suffering of the Syrian people” is getting worse and that questions about canceling the monitoring mission are premature.

Major General Robert Mood told the U.N. Security Council attackers have targeted his 300-strong unarmed observer team several times in the last few weeks. He said at least nine U.N. vehicles have been damaged.

Mood and U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said the mission in Syria was suspended on Saturday because of escalating violence, but team members did not leave the country. The decision was the clearest sign yet that a peace plan brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan has collapsed.

The Security Council agreed to send the observer 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 in mid-July.