Syrians fleeing Homs accuse troops of atrocities

One woman told Paul Wood how two of her brothers were detained, and one was killed

People fleeing the central Syrian city of Homs have told the BBC that security forces are committing atrocities there.

One woman told the BBC's Paul Wood on the outskirts of Homs that soldiers had slit the throat of her 12-year-old son on Friday - a day after rebel fighters withdrew from the Baba Amr district.

She said 35 other men and boys from her area had also been detained and killed.

The government has denied the Red Cross access to Baba Amr for four consecutive days, citing security concerns.

Activists have warned of a humanitarian catastrophe.

Electricity, water and communications have been cut off, and in recent days temperatures have plummeted and snow has fallen. Food supplies are said to be dangerously low.

'Screams'

On Thursday, government troops backed by tanks entered Baba Amr after the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) announced a "tactical withdrawal".

Eyewitness

A terrible fear has seized people here about what the government forces are doing now that they are back in control.

In a house we sat with six women and their 17 children. They had arrived that day. There were no men.

"We were walking out altogether until we reached the checkpoint," said one of the women, Um Abdo.

"Then they separated us from the men. They put hoods on their heads and took them away."

Where do you think they are now, I asked? The women replied all at once: "They will be slaughtered."

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and its Syrian Red Crescent partners have been told they cannot enter the district because of the risk of booby-traps and mines, although state TV reported it had been "sanitised" of "armed terrorist groups".

Opposition and human rights activists have said security forces and pro-government militia have been rounding up men and boys over the age of 14 who are still in Baba Amr, and then torturing and killing them.

The claims cannot be substantiated, but people fleeing Homs also told our correspondent that security forces had been committing atrocities, including summary executions and cutting the throats of prisoners.

One woman, who had walked for three days to escape, said that on Friday troops had taken 36 men and boys from one area and killed them.

"My son's throat was cut," she said. "He was 12."

Her husband said he was hiding about 50m away and saw one soldier hold down their son's head with his boot while another killed him.

"I could hear their screams," he added.

Another woman said: "They took our husbands. They took them at a checkpoint. They will slaughter them like sheep."

Start Quote

Syrian army defectors on the outskirts of Homs

We were told in this operation: 'You shoot anything that moves. Civilian or military - you shoot at it”

End Quote Syrian army defector

Several men who said they had defected from an elite army unit last week told our correspondent that civilians were being targeted by security forces and prisoners were being killed.

"A lieutenant gave us the order," he said. "We were told in this operation: 'You shoot anything that moves. Civilian or military - you shoot at it.'"

Our correspondent says the people of Baba Amr defied the government and now they are scattered, their uprising crushed.

The UK's Channel 4 News broadcast secretly shot footage on Monday that it said shows hospital patients in Homs being tortured by medical staff.

Pictures showed wards full of wounded men, shackled to their beds and blindfolded and some showing the marks of severe beatings.

The authorities have not commented and the video cannot be independently verified.

The UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told Channel 4 that the images accorded with other evidence gathered by a UN-backed commission of inquiry of torture in Syrian hospitals, particularly military hospitals.

She said there was evidence of similar occurrences in hospitals in Hama and Deraa.

The independent commission of inquiry said in February that Syrian security forces had "committed widespread, systematic and gross human rights violations, amounting to crimes against humanity, with the apparent knowledge and consent of the highest levels of the state".

Pro-regime supporters in Damascus with posters of President Assad and Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin Russia is a key Syrian ally and the largest supplier of arms to the Assad regime

The EU has said it will document alleged war crimes to set the stage for a "day of reckoning" for Syria's leaders. But Russia and China have vetoed two UN Security Council resolutions critical of the government.

UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said on Monday that Syria had approved her visit to the country and she planned to travel there on Wednesday "to urge all parties to allow unhindered access for humanitarian aid".

Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is also due to visit Syria at the weekend as joint special envoy for the UN and the Arab League.

'Extremely difficult'

The director-general of the ICRC, Yves Daccord, earlier spoke of his concern about the humanitarian situation in Baba Amr and the need to gain access.

"We have to be firm and not give up," he said. "Negotiations are being led on site in Homs with military commanders and also in Damascus."

A second ICRC convoy carrying food and other relief supplies arrived in Homs from Damascus on Monday.

Diplomatic pressure appeared to be growing on Russia on Monday to drop its support for President Bashar al-Assad.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said he hoped Moscow would "see that it stands on the wrong side of history" in regard to Syria.

Meanwhile, the body of US journalist Marie Colvin is due to be flown back to New York on Tuesday morning.

Colvin, who worked for the Sunday Times, died in a rocket attack in Baba Amr on 22 February with French photographer Remi Ochlik.

Map of Homs

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