x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Red Cross gets aid into areas around Baba Amr

The Red Cross delivered emergency aid to areas around the battered Baba Amr district of the Syrian city of Homs yesterday, but was blocked for a third day from entering the former rebel bastion amid reports of bloody reprisals by state forces.

BEIRUT // The Red Cross delivered emergency aid to areas around the battered Baba Amr district of the Syrian city of Homs yesterday, but was blocked for a third day from entering the former rebel bastion amid reports of bloody reprisals by state forces.

Activists reported shelling and other violence across Syria, sending one of the biggest surges of refugees across the border into Lebanon in a single day since a revolt against President Bashar Al Assad began a year ago.

Concerns mounted for civilians stranded in Baba Amr in freezing weather with little food, fuel or medicine after weeks in under siege and near-constant shelling by Syrian forces intent on crushing the uprising.

"We have the green light, we hope to enter, we hope today is the day," said the International Committee of the Red Cross' Damascus-based spokesman Saleh Dabbakeh, declining to comment on what he said were sensitive talks with Syrian officials.

"We are very concerned about the people in Baba Amr."

The ICRC said it had been prevented from entering Baba Amr by Syrian forces despite receiving government permission, a move activists said was to hide "massacres" by the Syrian army.

The United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, said on Friday he had received "grisly reports" that troops were executing and torturing people in Homs after insurgents abandoned their positions.

Aid workers began delivering supplies to areas near Baba Amr where people had fled, the ICRC said.

The UN refugee agency said up to 2,000 Syrians had fled the fighting for neighbouring Lebanon.

Refugees told of army shelling and gunfire on border towns. One woman said she and her family had fled the village of Jusiyah, near Qusair, some 12km from the border.

"In the morning the shelling started, so we had to leave towards Lebanon. There were some wounded, but I don't know what happened to them," said Um Ali, 64.

She was sat under a tree with her husband, five sons and a pregnant daughter-in-law. They had not brought any belongings.

"We don't know what to do," she said.

"Residents told me that shelling started early this morning shortly after helicopters and spotter planes were seen above the town," said Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Clashes between Free Syrian Army defectors and Syrian troops were reported in Jebel Al Al Zawiya in Syria's north, and activists said government forces had used tear gas to end an anti-Assad protest of about 1,000 people in the northern city of Aleppo.

Mr Abdelrahamn also reported an attack on a Syrian army weapons depot by rebels near Homs on Saturday, killing and wounding up to 50 Syrian troops. Activists' reports are difficult to verify independently due to Syrian reporting restrictions.

The United Nations says Syrian security forces have killed more than 7,500 civilians since the revolt against the Assad family's four-decade rule began in March last year.

The Syrian government says "armed terrorists" had killed more than 2,000 soldiers and police during the unrest.

Lebanon deployed more troops to its northern border in response to the violence in Syrian towns nearby.