Middle East

Syria Red Crescent bid to rescue Homs journalists fails

Fresh attempts to evacuate two wounded Western journalists from Homs in Syria have failed, the Red Cross says.

Vehicles from the Syrian Red Crescent reached the besieged suburb of Baba Amr, but left without them.

Frenchwoman Edith Bouvier would not board vehicles, reports said, and other evacuees, including UK photographer Paul Conroy, stayed in solidarity.

Earlier, Syrian forces launched fresh attacks on a number of towns, reports say, with dozens more people killed.

The Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC), an activists' group which organises and documents protests, said a total of 125 people had died across Syria, many of them in a single incident at a checkpoint in Homs - although there has been no independent verification of this.

Broken leg

Reports on Monday evening said the Syrian Red Crescent had managed to regain access to Baba Amr but officials later confirmed they had left without the journalists.

Three Syrians, including a pregnant Syrian woman, her husband, and an elderly female patient, were moved to safety.

Ms Bouvier suffered a broken leg and Mr Conroy was hit by shrapnel in the leg and stomach in an attack last Wednesday that claimed the lives of American Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik.

It had been hoped that the bodies of the two dead journalists would be brought out during the same mission, but this also failed.

The BBC's Jim Muir reports from neighbouring Beirut that Ms Bouvier refused to board the Red Crescent vehicles, and the others stayed behind out of solidarity.

Paul Conroy's wife said on Sunday that her husband had rejected an earlier opportunity to leave Homs with the Syrian Red Crescent as the photographer had been advised that they were "not to be trusted".

And the UK's International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell told the BBC there was evidence of people on the ground "infiltrating the Syrian Red Crescent" and "posing an additional danger" to injured people seeking to leave Homs.

Meanwhile, the LCC said 15 people had been killed in the Idlib area, nine in the Aleppo area, and several in the suburbs of Damascus.

Several towns in Idlib came under army assault for the first time, reports said.

BBC correspondent Ian Pannell, who is in northern Syria, says troops fired artillery, mortars and anti-aircraft guns at Binnish and other towns on Monday.

Binnish has been under the control of the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian Liberation Army for the past week.

Our correspondent says the bombardment, which began in the early morning, appeared to be entirely random, hitting civilian areas rather than targeting rebel positions.

The towns of Sarmin and Maarat al-Numan were also hit, reports said, along with the town of Qusayr, nine miles (15km) outside Homs.

Weapons call

As the crackdown intensified, the European Union imposed further sanctions on Syria.

They include:

  • a freeze on the European-held assets of the Syrian central bank
  • travel bans on seven close associates of President Bashar al-Assad
  • a ban on cargo flights from Syria into the EU
  • restrictions on the trade in gold and precious metals

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague welcomed the fresh sanctions.

"We will continue working closely with our EU partners to support the Arab League and its plan to end the violence in Syria and bring about a Syrian-led transition to a peaceful and more open political system," he said.

Qatar Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said the international community should do "whatever necessary" to help the Syrian opposition, "including giving them weapons to defend themselves".

"I think they're right to defend themselves with weapons and I think we should help these people by all means," he added.

Syrian state television has meanwhile announced the results of a referendum on a new constitution, which was dismissed by opposition activists and the West as a sham.

The poll showed around 89% support for the proposal, the report said, on a turnout of just over 57%.