x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Red Cross planning emergency evacuation of Homs

Emergency operation is to aid hundreds of civilians and evacuate the wounded, sick and elderly trapped by fighting in the Syrian city.

UN observers at their residence in the Dama Rose Hotel in Damascus. The 300 unarmed monitors are unlikely to have their mission extended after next month.
UN observers at their residence in the Dama Rose Hotel in Damascus. The 300 unarmed monitors are unlikely to have their mission extended after next month.

GENEVA // The International Committee of the Red Cross said yesterday that it was preparing to mount an emergency operation to aid hundreds of civilians and evacuate the wounded, sick and elderly trapped by fighting in the Syrian city of Homs.

Syria's government and rebel groups agreed on Tuesday to pause the fighting, which had raged for more than 10 days, to allow rescuers to enter the affected neighbourhoods, the group said.

"Hundreds of civilians are stuck in the old city of Homs, unable to leave and find refuge in safer areas, because of the ongoing armed confrontations," said Beatrice Megevand-Roggo, the group's head of operations for the region.

"We also want to evacuate civilians who have been unable to flee the conflict area, and bring in much-needed aid and medical supplies to the local Syrian Arab Red Crescent branch."

A spokesman for the Red Cross in Geneva said aid workers were making final preparations that include ensuring it is in contact with all sides.

"We hope to get in as soon as possible," Hicham Hassan said.

Last week the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 1,000 families were stuck in the region around Homs and spoke of dozens of people wounded in urgent need of medical care.

"Every day there are many wounded from the shelling, and we can't do anything for them because we have nothing to treat them with," the activist Abu Bilal said yesterday. "The shelling is practically constant, and we can't get anybody out of the besieged districts. "Electricity has been cut off for four days" in the Old City of Homs and "there's no more flour to bake bread. There really is nothing to eat."

Elsewhere, rebels stormed an army barracks in the northwestern province of Latakia overnight and killed at least 20 soldiers, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The rebels had captured some soldiers, including a colonel, and seized machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, it said.

In assaults against opposition strongholds across the country, soldiers and militias loyal to Bashar Al Assad, the Syrian president, killed 19 people yesterday, according to the human-rights group.

Six fatalities were on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, which the government has shelled in an attempt to claw back ground lost to the rebels who had set up their own checkpoints.

Activists in Hama city said the army shelled Arbaeen neighbourhood and troops were preparing to the storm the area.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, the US secretary of state, is planning to travel to Russia next week for a meeting of Asia-Pacific foreign ministers in St Petersburg. Mrs Clinton will also hold private talks with Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, which will likely focus on the crisis in Syria and Iran's nuclear programme.

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse and Reuters