Red Cross Evacuation in Syria’s Homs on Hold

Posted June 21st, 2012 at 6:00 pm (UTC-5)
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The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday that violence has stalled its attempt to evacuate wounded civilians from the embattled Syrian city of Homs.

A spokeswoman for the ICRC said its team tried to enter the badly hit neighborhood of Hamidiya, but had to return as it heard close shootings. She said the team members are trying to re-establish contact with all concerned — the authorities and the opposition. The spokeswoman said the team will attempt to go back to Hamidiya.

“Fighting has been raging for more than 10 days between the Syrian army and armed opposition groups in several neighborhoods of Homs. So, there are hundreds of civilians to our knowledge that are stuck in the old city of Homs. They are unable to leave and find refuge in safer areas because of the ongoing armed confrontations.”

The ICRC had announced Wednesday it was ready to move trapped and wounded citizens from Homs. It said opposition forces and government troops agreed to a temporary truce so the group could carry out evacuations and bring in much-needed medical supplies.

However, residents and Syrian activists say two people were killed when government troops shelled the city on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Jordan has granted political asylum to a Syrian pilot, Colonel Hassan al-Hamade, who flew his Russian-made MiG-21 fighter jet into the country Thursday while on a training mission. Syria's government labeled the pilot a “deserter and a traitor” and contacted Jordanian authorities to try to retrieve the plane.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland praised the Syrian pilot's action as “extremely courageous.”

“We have long called for members of the Syrian military to refuse to obey orders, to break with the Assad regime. This is just one of countless instances where Syrians, including members of the security forces, have rejected the horrific acts that they are being asked to carry out by the regime, and we would like to see more of this.”

Also Thursday, witnesses reported fierce fighting in the mostly opposition-held Damascus suburb of Douma. Amateur video showed rebel soldiers engaged in street battles with government troops.

Meanwhile in the Dara'a suburb of Inghil, witnesses said government troops shelled a funeral procession, killing up to 20 people.

In Cairo, Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi said that a contact group will meet on June 29 to discuss Syria.

“He said that a committee including the five major powers would meet for the first time, which is important because previous meeting did not include two of those powers — Russia and China.”

Both Russia and China have blocked U.N. Security Council resolutions to condemn Damascus for attacking the civilian population. The U.N. estimates that over 10,000 civilians have been killed in more than 15 months of conflict.