Troops retake Rastan as aid reaches Bab Amr residents


AS SYRIAN troops yesterday re-entered Deraa and re-established control in Rastan, north of Homs, humanitarian volunteers distributed urgently needed food and blankets to residents of the Homs district of Bab Amr, who have taken refuge in nearby neighbourhoods.

Damascus International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spokesman Saleh Dabbakeh said the aid mission entered the district of Inshaat, next to Bab Amr, to provide refugees with vital assistance, while the SARC deployed a mobile clinic to give the wounded and ailing medical care.

The ICRC sent four more lorry loads of supplies in addition to the seven that arrived in Homs on Friday, the day after the rebels withdrew from Bab Amr.

He said the consignments contained food parcels meeting the needs of 12,000 people for a month, 1,000 blankets, and 1,000 mattresses.

“This is the fifth convoy we have sent over the past few days. We have also sent supplies to Deraa, Hama and Idlib. We will continue trying to get into Bab Amr. They still say it isn’t safe.”

Al-Watan, a pro-regime Damascus daily, reported the rebels had left behind explosives, booby traps and shooters.

Lebanon’s Daily Star has said 13 French officers apprehended in Bab Amr are being held in a field hospital in Homs. A French foreign ministry spokeswoman said there was “no confirmation” of this story.

However, a foreign diplomatic source has told The Irish Times there were reports that between four and eight French officers were seized in Bab Amr around February 22nd, the day journalists Marie Colvin and Rémi Ochlik were killed when the media centre in the district was shelled. The officers were alleged to be helping the rebels with communications.

Although news of French military captives has not been verified, the arrest of 47 Turkish military intelligence personnel in Syria last year has been unofficially confirmed by both sides.

Meanwhile, western Iraqi Sunni tribesmen who allied themselves with the US to fight al-Qaeda during 2007-08 have expressed opposition to the arming of Syrian rebels.

Sheikh Khaled Khalifa argued that promoting dissidence and providing weapons to the insurgents would harm the people rather than the regime.

Sheikh Hamad Hnein accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of risking the “collapse of the [Syrian] state . . . Foreign intervention should have the aim of solving, not escalating” the conflict.

Shaikh Khalifa expressed concern the violence in Syria could spill over into Iraq, which is still “living in a period of instability”.

Former Chinese ambassador to Damascus Li Huaxin is expected today in the Syrian capital to promote a six-point peace plan put forward by Beijing last weekend.

UN humanitarian co-ordinator Valerie Amos is due in Damascus tomorrow.