Middle East

Red Cross convoy arrives in Homs bringing Baba Amr aid

A Red Cross convoy has arrived in the Syrian city of Homs and is set to deliver supplies to the Baba Amr district after a month-long siege.

The Red Cross and Syrian Red Crescent have organised the seven-lorry aid convoy, and are also planning to evacuate the wounded.

The area has suffered heavy bombardment by government forces in recent weeks.

The rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) said on Thursday it was leaving the district in a "tactical withdrawal".

Of the 100,000 people who normally live in Baba Amr only a few thousand remain, with the FSA saying it had pulled back to save those still there from an all-out assault.

Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) said it had received reports of executions in Homs.

'No obstacle'

Syrian Red Crescent operations chief Khaled Erksoussi told AFP news agency the convoy was "carrying food, medicines, blankets, milk for babies and other equipment".

It has been snowing heavily in Homs and the lorries' journey from the capital, Damascus, was slow.

Red Crescent volunteers and ambulances in Homs will join the convoy as it heads into Baba Amr.

The head of the Syrian Red Crescent, Dr Abdual Rahman al-Attar, told the BBC the convoy had been given permission to go into Baba Amr but was still finalising the details.

But the BBC's Jim Muir in neighbouring Lebanon says it is getting late in the day there and they may now have to wait until Saturday.

Many of those still in the district are without power and running low on basic supplies. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it feared there could be many seriously wounded people there.

But Sean Maguire, a spokesman for the ICRC, said: "If the fighting has truly died down, in theory there should be no obstacle to us going in there and staying there on a day-to-day basis.

"Our colleagues from the Syrian Red Crescent have been distributing food and assistance in other areas of Homs on a daily basis, and we hope to be able to do the same in Baba Amr."

Two French journalists, Edith Bouvier and William Daniels, who had been trapped in Homs and escaped to Lebanon, have now left on a plane for France, according to officials.

Ms Bouvier was badly injured in the bombardment of a makeshift media centre last week, in which two journalists were killed.

Syrian authorities say the bodies of the two, Marie Colvin of Britain's Sunday Times and French photojournalist Remi Ochlik, have been found and will be taken to Damascus to be identified and returned home.

Two other journalists, Spaniard Javier Espinosa and Briton Paul Conroy, also escaped to Lebanon.

Mr Espinosa described his escape, as part of a group of 50 people who crept through the government lines at night.

"There were a group of kids who were terrified... we tried to just shut [quieten] them down ... but it was too late and they [government troops] started shooting, so we had to run for our life... to hide," he told the BBC.

"I guess there were some people who died."

He also spoke about the suffering he saw while he was in the city.

"We are talking about 20,000 mainly women and old people, civilians, trapped in a very small enclave under constant shelling during the whole day until night," he said.

"It was very systematic. They start shelling at six o'clock in the morning, they finish at six o'clock pm. So there is no place to hide because there are no shelters, just wait in your house [and hope] that they don't hit your house. And there is no basic stuff like milk for the babies, like bread, like water."

'Day of reckoning'

The UN human rights office said on Friday it had received reports of "a particularly grisly set of summary executions" involving 17 people in Baba Amr.

Although spokesman Rupert Colville said the reports were unconfirmed, he said the UN was appealing to Syrian authorities and rebels to desist from all forms of reprisal.

In a unanimous statement on Thursday, the UN Security Council had expressed its "disappointment" that UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos had not been granted authorisation to visit Syria, and demanded immediate access for her.

The members urged Syrian authorities to grant "immediate, full and unimpeded access" to aid agencies.

Russia and China, who vetoed two previous Security Council resolutions on Syria, also backed the call.

Our correspondent says the statement was lowest common denominator on which all members could all agree, but that a fundamental difference remains, with the West calling for regime change and Russia and China continuing to insist there must be no such foreign intervention.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced on Friday that France was closing its Syrian embassy in protest at the "scandalous" repression by President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron called for the "criminal" Syrian government to be held to account, saying there would be "a day of reckoning for this dreadful regime".

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin criticised the West for backing the Syrian opposition, but insisted Russia had "no special relationship" with the Syrian government.

The UN estimates more than 7,500 people have died in an 11-month anti-government uprising in Syria.

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