Violence in Syrian City Blocks Evacuation of Wounded

Posted June 21st, 2012 at 11:45 am (UTC-5)
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Aid teams from the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian Red Crescent said Thursday that violence has forced them to halt attempts to evacuate wounded civilians from the western Syrian city of Homs.

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, the shelling of Homs has not subsided. Residents and Syrian rights activists say two people were killed when government troops shelled the city on Thursday. Hundreds of people are reported trapped in Homs' Sunni Muslim neighborhoods.

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

Activists also report that shelling Thursday in the southern town of Inkhil, in Daraa province, killed at least nine people.

Meanwhile, Jordan's information ministry says a Syrian fighter pilot has landed at a military base in Jordan and asked for political asylum.

Syrian state media reported earlier Thursday that the military had lost contact with Colonel Hassan al-Hamade while he was flying a Russian-made MiG-21 fighter jet on a training mission in the country's south.

It is believed to be the first Syrian military defection involving an aircraft.

Also Thursday, Russia's foreign ministry confirmed that a cargo ship that had been heading to Syria when it was forced to turn back near British waters was carrying three attack helicopters, which had been repaired, along with air defense equipment.

Russia's Interfax news agency quotes Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying “the ship was carrying air defense systems, which can be [used] only for repelling foreign aggression and not against peaceful demonstrators.”

A British insurance company had cancelled the insurance for the ship Tuesday when it discovered the nature of the cargo, forcing the vessel to turn back to Russia.

Arab League Deputy Secretary-General Ahmed Bin Hilli told Interfax that Russia should stop supplying Syria with military equipment, which he said is “helping to kill people.”