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Syria crisis: Red Cross resumes Homs evacuation bid

Published: February 25, 2012 | 6:57 am
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The Red Cross says it is resuming its attempts to rescue more Syrians trapped by shelling in the city of Homs.

On Friday it evacuated several people for the first time since the army began bombarding areas of Homs last month.

Two foreign journalists are among the wounded but it is not clear if they are among those being brought out.

Meanwhile, international pressure is mounting on President Bashar al-Assad to end his government’s 11-month crackdown on opponents.

On Friday, following long negotiations, three Syrian Arab Red Crescent ambulances drove into the suburb of Baba Amr which has borne the brunt of the government attack.

They brought out 20 women and children as well as seven people who were sick or wounded.

The wounded were transferred to a hospital in Homs, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a statement.

“The ICRC will continue its discussions and negotiations with the Syrian authorities and members of the opposition so we are able to pursue these rounds of evacuations,” the statement continued.

“The idea is to be able to evacuate all those wounded and sick, those who are in a desperate situation to reach medical facilities for urgent medical treatment.”

Rebel soldiers

Thousands of people are trapped in residential areas which government forces have subjected to days of heavy bombardment. The districts are defended by rebel soldiers calling themselves the Free Syrian Army, who are only lightly armed.

The injured and dying are treated in makeshift clinics with limited supplies.

Two wounded foreign journalists, Frenchwoman Edith Bouvier and Briton Paul Conroy, are believed to be still in Baba Amr. The bodies of journalists Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik who were killed in the same attack earlier this week also remain there.

Diplomatic efforts to stop the killings in Syria were stepped up on Friday with a meeting of the “Friends of Syria” group in the Tunisian capital, Tunis.

Delegates from 70 countries issued a declaration calling on the Damascus government to end violence immediately, allow humanitarian access, and permit the delivery of relief supplies.

The declaration also vowed to step up sanctions on Syria, including travel bans, asset freezes, ending oil trade, reducing diplomatic links and preventing arms shipments.

The conference endorsed the main opposition umbrella group, the Syrian National Council, as a “credible” voice of opposition but stopped short of declaring it a plausible government-in-waiting.

The council has warned that military intervention might be the “only option” to remove the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Western and Arab nations have so far rejected the idea of a foreign mission similar to the one that helped to topple Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.

But speaking in Tunis, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal backed the idea of arming Syria’s opposition.

“I think it is an excellent idea… because they have to protect themselves,” he said.

‘Stop the killing’

In Washington on Friday, President Barack Obama said the US and its allies would consider “every tool available” to stop the killings of innocent people in Syria.

“It is time for that regime to move on. And it is time to stop the killing of Syrian citizens by their own government,” he said.

In Tunis, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton strongly rebuked Russia and China which both refused to attend the conference and previously vetoed UN Security Council resolutions targeting Syria.

“It’s quite distressing to see two permanent members of the Security Council using their veto while people are being murdered – women, children, brave young men – houses are being destroyed,” she said.

“It is just despicable and I ask whose side are they on? They are clearly not on the side of the Syrian people.”

Activists said 103 people were killed by Syrian government forces across the country on Friday.

The UN estimated in January that 5,400 people had been killed in the conflict. Activists say the death toll now is more than 7,300.

The Syrian regime restricts access to foreign journalists and casualty figures cannot be verified.

BBC

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