Syria crisis: Valerie Amos describes Homs 'devastation'

Composite picture released by Syrian Sana news agency showing Baroness Amos' visit to Homs - 7 March Baroness Amos (top left, in red) spent little more than an hour in Homs

UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos has said parts of the Syrian city of Homs have been "completely devastated".

She said that it felt like the city had been closed down entirely.

Baroness Amos visited the city on Wednesday, briefly entering the bombed-out Baba Amr district.

Aid teams have waited days to go there, but aid officials said most residents had gone to areas already getting aid. The government retook the district last week after fierce shelling.

Activists say troops committed massacres since they entered. Damascus blames rebels for many deaths.

International media organisations are heavily restricted in Syria, making it impossible to verify the claims of either side.

The rebel Free Syrian Army left the city last week in the hope, it said, of protecting civilians from further violence.

Meanwhile there have been loud explosions and heavy shelling in Idlib, opposition sources said, amid fears the northern city could become the next major flashpoint as international attention is focused on Homs.

Analysis

Lady Amos has managed to do something that an International Red Cross convoy, waiting nearby, has been prevented from doing since last Friday - to visit the shattered quarter of Baba Amr.

So she'll have gained at least some impression of the scale of destruction the area has suffered, from nearly a month of siege and pounding by artillery and tanks. But much of the superficial damage, the rubble and broken glass, has been cleared away in a big clean-up operation that's been going on for the past three days.

The Red Crescent volunteers are reported to have concluded that the area remains largely deserted, though Syrian state televison has shown a number of families returning. But activist groups are still reporting more killings - most recently, the butchering of two families, of 13 and seven people, including women and children, in nearby farmland. Such allegations can't be verified, and neither Lady Amos nor the Red Cross would be able to check them out.

She's seeking unhindered access for humanitarian aid to all trouble spots. What she's been given so far is very much less than that.

Opposition groups said 39 people were killed throughout the country on Wednesday, of whom 26 were in Homs, six in Idlib, three in Deraa and two each in suburbs of Damascus and Aleppo.

The UN says more than 7,500 people have died as a result of the violence in Syria over the past 12 months.

Call for access

The UN aid chief spent less than an hour in Baba Amr assessing its humanitarian needs.

She then moved on to other districts of the city, before returning to Damascus.

Baroness Amos' said there were security issues in the city and that she heard gunfire there, her spokeswoman Amanda Pitt said.

"She says that the parts they saw were completely devastated," Ms Pitt said, quoted by AFP news agency.

"She said Homs feels like a city that has been completely closed down."

She was also not being allowed to enter opposition-held areas despite government assurances she could visit the whole country.

The Red Crescent has not yet been able to deliver any aid to Baba Amr.

"The Syrian Arab Red Crescent stayed inside Baba Amr for about 45 minutes," International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spokesman Hicham Hassan told Reuters news agency.

"They found that most inhabitants had left Baba Amr to areas that have been already visited by the ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent in the past week."

He said the ICRC aid had been delivering aid to other areas where people needed help, including Hama, Idlib, Deraa, areas on the outskirts of Damascus and the eastern city of Raqqa.

Staff from the ICRC were not with them as they were delivering aid to the village of Abil outside Homs at the time permission was given, and it is unclear whether they will be allowed to follow the Red Crescent in.

Baroness Amos has been urging the Syrian government to grant access to battle-scarred cities.

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

She is scheduled to meet the head of the Syrian Red Crescent, Abdulrahman Attar, on Thursday.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallim told her that the government would co-operate with her team and was trying to help civilians, according to Syrian state news agency Sana.

US President Barack Obama has described the situation in Syria as "heartbreaking" but said US unilateral military intervention in the country would be a mistake.

He said President Bashar al-Assad would fall, as other dictators had fallen, but the US would try to achieve this by working to isolate Syria.

"The notion that the way to solve every one of these problems is to deploy our military, that hasn't been true in the past, and it won't be true now," said Mr Obama.

The US says it is proposing a new UN Security Council resolution demanding an end to violence in Syria.

Russia and China have vetoed two previous resolutions, saying they were unbalanced and only demanded the government stop attacks.

China, however, announced on Wednesday that it had already removed most of its workers from the country.

Map of Homs

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