Middle East

Syria crisis: Red Cross pushes for Baba Amr access

A man carries a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) in the al-Hamidiya neighbourhood of Homs,
Image caption Parts of Homs were bombarded for weeks

The Red Cross has been unable to access the wrecked area of Baba Amr, in the Syrian city of Homs, for a third day.

The agency said it had begun to hand out food and blankets to people who had fled Baba Amr to nearby areas.

Syrian officials told the Red Cross that Baba Amr had to be cleared of booby traps, but activists said troops were carrying out reprisal attacks.

Meanwhile, the bodies of two foreign journalists killed in Homs are due to arrive in Paris later.

The bodies of Remi Ochlik and Marie Colvin had been put on an Air France flight from Damascus on Saturday evening.

Baba Amr 'mystery'

Rebels from the Free Syrian Army withdrew from Baba Amr late last week after weeks of shelling from government forces.

A seven-lorry Red Cross convoy has been waiting to enter Baba Amr for three days.

The government gave permission for the agency to access the area, but has since refused to let the convoy through.

The BBC's Jim Muir, in neighbouring Lebanon, says the Red Cross and Red Crescent have now begun to help those who fled Baba Amr, giving them blankets to help deal with the bitter cold.

The ICRC said a 15-strong team had been dispatched to the Abil area, south of the city.

ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan told Reuters: "The plan is to continue to the neighbourhoods of Inshaat and Tawzii in order to assist [local] populations and families displaced from Baba Amr."

The Red Cross said it did not know how serious the situation was in Baba Amr.

"We really don't know how many people are still in there. It's all a bit of a mystery to us," said the UK spokesman of the ICRC, Sean Maguire.

'Systematic slaughter'

Witnesses and activists say conditions in the district are terrible, with no power and little food, water and medical supplies.

Syrian state TV has been broadcasting pictures of deserted streets laden with debris.

The Syrian authorities say there are mines and potential booby traps in Baba Amr that need to be cleared before the Red Cross can enter.

But there have been unconfirmed reports of revenge killings and summary executions by Syrian forces in Baba Amr and opposition activists believe the delay is to cover this up.

The reports speak of mass arrests of males over the age of 11, with the local co-operative building being turned into a detention centre.

One report alleged that a lorry-load of bodies from Baba Amr was seen on a nearby road.

There were also reports of explosions, shootings and shelling in other districts of Homs.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said on Friday that the international community had failed in its duty, and called for unity.

"Continued division emboldens the Syrian authorities in their violent path," he said.

Paul Conroy, a Sunday Times photographer who fled Syria after being wounded in Homs, told the BBC that what was happening in Baba Amr was "systematic slaughter".

"I've done a fair few wars, I've never seen anything on this level," he said.

Activists say 7,500 people have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began almost a year ago. The government blames "terrorists and armed gangs" for the violence.

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