Syrian regime blocks Red Cross convoy


THE INTERNATIONAL Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent were yesterday blocked from entering the Bab Amr quarter of Homs by Syrian authorities, according to Red Cross officials. The convoy included ambulances to evacuate the ill and wounded, and seven lorry loads of relief supplies.

An estimated 4,000 civilians braved cold and snow in the shattered residential area, without food, water, electricity and fuel for heating.

The convoy linked up with local Red Crescent volunteers, who have previously delivered aid and rescued residents but did not enter Bab Amr. A Red Cross spokesman in Damascus, Saleh Dabbakeh, would not comment on the reasons for the delay but said: “We will try again tomorrow.”

The Syrian army continued to conduct mopping-up operations after their bombardment of the city and to clear mines said to have been planted by the rebels before their withdrawal from Bab Amr on Thursday.

The London-based Syria Observatory for Human Rights reported that government forces had executed 10 insurgents who had remained behind to cover the retreat.

Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the organisation had received an unverified report of “a particularly grisly set of summary executions” in Bab Amr. He urged the authorities to ensure that there are “no unlawful reprisals, no summary executions, no torture, no arbitrary detention”.

The Observatory also said that 10 people at an anti-regime demonstration were killed in Rastan, west of Bab Amr.

A pro-government figure said the army offensive had “broken the back” of the armed uprising and the rebel rout heralded the coming victory over what he called a western-supported insurgency.

A Lebanese official with close ties to Damascus observed that the government was determined to reassert control over Homs, the country’s third city. The rebel defeat in Homs leaves them without a major stronghold.

Other analysts argue the government could not permit the rebels to control Bab Amr, a strategic quarter on the west of Homs, situated near the oil refinery and the bypass road to Hama. Insurgents in Bab Amr linked up with fighters in other restive Homs districts, forming a partial insurgent crescent along the western approaches of the city.

Meanwhile, French journalists Edith Bouvier and William Daniels arrived in Paris after being evacuated from Bab Amr to Beirut, where they were collected by a French military aircraft.

It was reported also that the bodies of Sunday Times reporter Marie Colvin and French photographer Rémi Ochlik had been taken by the Syrian authorities to Damascus ahead of their assumed repatriation.

Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, said reports in the West did not reflect events on the ground in Syria. “Moscow doesn’t defend any side in Syria. It adopts a principled stance in dealing with the crisis.”