Red Cross finally gains access to devastated Baba Amr


By Weedah Hamzah

Beirut (dpa) – UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos on Wednesday visited Baba Amr, the Homs neighbourhood devastated by Syrian army attacks, accompanied by a Red Cross team which had been waiting for a week to gain access to the area.

Amos’ visit to Syria came amid warnings by the Syrian opposition that government forces were preparing for a major attack on the northern rebel province of Idlib, near the border with Turkey.

Syrian Red Crescent officials told dpa that Amos paid a brief visit to Baba Amr, which had been bombarded for almost a month by government forces, accompanied by its members.

“Red Crescent teams stayed about 45 minutes in Baba Amr, and confirmed that the vast majority of inhabitants have fled the neighborhood,” the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a statement distributed via Twitter.

But a Syrian activist from Baba Amr – now based in northern Lebanon, – told dpa he did not trust the Syrian Red Crescent officials.

“The Syrian Red Crescent are agents of the regime and we do not trust what they will say or tell the UN chief or show her,” said Abu Imad.

State media reported that during talks with Amos in Damascus, Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem Wednesday underlined “Syria’s commitment to cooperate with the UN delegation within the framework of respect, sovereignty and independence of Syria.”

Amos told al-Moallem that the aim of her visit was to assess the humanitarian situation on the ground, Syria’s official news agency SANA reported.

“She stressed respect for Syria’s sovereignty and rejection of using the humanitarian aspect for political purposes,” the agency added.

Al-Moallem met separately with the Chinese foreign minister’s envoy, Li Huaxin, who reiterated Beijing’s opposition to foreign intervention in Syria, according to SANA.

Meanwhile, at least 25 people were killed Wednesday in violence across Syria, according to activists.

The deaths included 15 in the northern province of Idlib and 10, including a child, in Homs.

Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that the death toll in the country since the anti-government revolt erupted in mid-March 2011 had reached 8,458.

The toll includes 6,195 civilians, as well as 2,263 government military and security personnel and army deserters, he told dpa.

News from Syria cannot be independently verified as authorities bar foreign media from the restive areas.

Opposition activists said Wednesday the government seemed poised to mount an attack on the province of Idlib.

“The military mobilization around the province indicates that this brutal regime is preparing for perpetrating a massacre in Idlib as it did in Homs,” Rami Idlibi, a Syrian activist in the region, said.

Idlib has been a stronghold of opposition activists and army defectors since the uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad began.

Government forces, meanwhile, continued their shelling attacks in the province of Homs, mainly in the towns of Rastan and al-Kussair, for the third consecutive day, activists said.

“Since the early hours of the morning, sounds of exploding shells and machinegun fire have been heard,” Abu Imad, a Syrian activist, told dpa.

The United Nations has put the number of people killed in Syria’s conflict at well over 7,500, including 500 children, in the last 11 months.