x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Food shortage adds to woe in Homs siege

Ten children are among the 131 more deaths, say opposition activists, as the assault on Syrian city entered its seventh day.

Mourners carry the body of a 10-year-old boy during a funeral for the child and rebel fighters killed during fighting in Idlib.
Mourners carry the body of a 10-year-old boy during a funeral for the child and rebel fighters killed during fighting in Idlib.

BEIRUT // The humanitarian situation in Homs is deteriorating as medical supplies dwindle while government forces continue to bombard parts of the city killing scores of people yesterday, according to opposition activists.

As the assault on Homs entered its seventh day yesterday, a report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that some Homs residents were unable to leave their neighbourhoods because of the attacks and are unable to get food and other supplies.

The US-based rights group yesterday called on the Syrian government to stop shelling civilian areas in Homs and said that more than 300 people had been killed since the assault on Syria's third largest city began on February 3.

During lulls in the onslaught, people used loudspeakers to call for blood donations and medical supplies while it has been reported that baby milk powder if being smuggled in.

"There is medicine in the pharmacies, but getting it to the field clinics is very difficult. They can't get the medicine to the wounded," Mohammed Saleh, a Syria-based activist, told The Associated Press by telephone.

Parts of the city also remain without electricity and water and a blockade is preventing much needed medical supplies and care from reaching the injured.

"This brutal assault on residential neighbourhoods shows the Syrian authorities' contempt for the lives of their citizens in Homs," said Anna Neistat, Human Rights Watch's associate director for emergencies. "Those responsible for such horrific attacks will have to answer for them."

The Local Coordinating Committees, a network of opposition activists, said some 131 people were believed to have been killed across Syria yesterday, including ten children and 110 people in Homs. These numbers could not be independently verified.

The resort town of Zabandani, close to the border with Lebanon, was also heavily shelled by government forces and there was violence in Deraa yesterday, according to activists.

Yesterday, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described the "appalling brutality" of the attack on Homs. Radhika Coomaraswamy, Mr Ban's special representative for children and armed conflict, also called on Syrian authorities to stop "killing and maiming" children.

"Over the past months, the number of child victims in Syria has climbed into the hundreds and the rate is increasing," she said.

"The situation is particularly harrowing in Homs where reports of the killing of children and shelling of civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, are received daily."

While the international community is split on how to deal with Syria, there is growing concern about the civilians trapped by the violence, particularly in Homs, and the potential for a humanitarian crisis.

HRW said witness accounts and video footage from the attacks in Homs have suggested that government security forces are using long-range indirect fire weapons, which the group says are "inherently indiscriminate when fired into densely populated areas".

Since the assault on Homs began last Friday night - when government forces began their fight to retake control of the city of 1 million - hundreds of shells are believed to have been fired into populated residential areas. Activists say hospitals are now largely off-limits to the wounded, who are taken to makeshift clinics and field hospitals.

HRW said there was a fear that people injured in the fighting could be arrested if they seek medical treatment at government hospitals in Homs. The group said that at least three field hospitals have been hit by the shelling.

The United States is said to be considering ways of getting food and medicine to those who need it in the city.

This week, Syrian authorities said that medical facilities in Homs were functioning normally. But, the Syrian state news agency, Sana, said yesterday that an "armed terrorist group" had attacked a hospital in the Homs governorate on Wednesday, stealing medical equipment and other items.

Sana also reported yesterday that on Wednesday authorities in Homs seized a number of American and Israeli-made weapons, including rifles, grenades and rocket-propelled grenade launchers and missiles.

The Syrian government has said that the "armed terrorist groups" are responsible for the violence in Homs and elsewhere in the country.


With additional reporting by Reuters and The Associated Press



* With additional reporting by Reuters