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Syria “green lights” aid into hard-hit Baba Amr

Published: March 2, 2012 | 8:32 am
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Aid workers were given the go ahead by President Bashar al-Assad’s government to begin evacuating the wounded and delivering supplies Friday to the shattered rebel stronghold in Homs as reports emerged that Syrian forces turned attention to other targets in the city.
Opposition reports of shelling and sniper attacks in Sunni-dominated neighborhoods follow news that Syrian forces seized Baba Amr, a flashpoint in a nearly year-long uprising that has left thousands dead.
The International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent have “received the green light” to enter Baba Amr, Carla Haddad Mardini, an ICRC spokeswoman, said.
She predicted the humanitarian aid and evacuation operations would be made more complex because snow was falling in the city.
Even as the Syrian government agreed to allow aid into the neighborhood, the U.N. Security Council unanimously called on al-Assad to grant immediate access to its humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos.
Amos was denied access this week by the government, who said it was not a “suitable time” to visit, according to Syrian state-run TV.
The statement by the Security Council was signed off on by its 15 member nations, including China and Russia, a Soviet-era ally and arms dealer to Syria, who previously blocked a U.S. resolution condemning the violence and calling for a transfer of power.
The Security Council statement came the same day a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution condemned Syria’s “widespread and systematic violations of human rights” and called on the regime to permit aid groups in to distribute relief.
Despite enormous international pressure from the U.N, the United States, the European Union and member nations of the Arab League to bring about an end to the violence, al-Assad has continued to push forward with a brutal crackdown.
The conflict erupted in March of 2011, when al-Assad’s Alawite minority-dominated government launched a crackdown against a predominantly Sunni anti-government protest movement that eventually devolved into an uprising with an armed resistance. Al-Assad is an Alawite, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
The United Nations estimates more than 7,500 people have died, while the Local Coordination Committee of Syria, an opposition group that compiles reports of casualties and violence, said more than 9,000 people have died during the conflict. The Syrian government says more than 2,000 security personnel have been killed in the violence.
At least 45 people were killed across Syria on Thursday, the LCC said. Of those deaths, 24 occurred in Homs, the group said.
CNN can not independently confirm reports of casualties and violence by the opposition and the government because Syria has severely restricted the access of international journalists.
Al-Assad has denied targeting civilians, saying his forces are after armed gangs and foreign fighters bent on destabilizing Syria.
But evidence to the contrary has been documented by citizen journalists and the opposition who post their work on social media websites and YouTube.
Much of the attention recently over the violence in Syria has been focused on Baba Amr, a neighborhood of five-square miles that endured 26 consecutive days of shelling before rebel forces announced a “tactical retreat” on Thursday.
It was not immediately clear how or where the rebel fighters retreated, raising questions about whether the opposition is reconstituting its stronghold somewhere else in the city of Homs.
Syrian forces, backed by tanks, surrounded the neighborhoods of Bab Tadmur and Jib al-Jandali, the Revolutionary Council of Homs said.
Intense fighting was reported in the two Sunni-dominated neighborhoods, and a video posted by an opposition activist that claimed to show smoke rising from Bab Tadmur following a shelling attack.
Meanwhile, the French government confirmed two French journalists — Edith Bouvier and William Daniels — who were trapped in Baba Amr were safely in Lebanon.
The opposition group Avaaz said it helped Bouvier and Daniels to escape.
Bouvier was wounded in an attack last week on a makeshift media center in Baba Amr, which killed French journalist Remi Ochlik and American journalist Marie Colvin.
The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency claimed late Thursday that authorities had recovered the bodies of Colvin and Ochlik, who the opposition said had been buried in a garden in Homs after aid workers were unable to get their bodies out.
After DNA analysis confirms the identities, they will be handed over to the embassies of Poland, on behalf of the U.S. Embassy, France and Spain, SANA reported.

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