Homs - Reuters - 17.2.2012
Smoke billowing in Homs in this handout picture received February 17, 2012. Photo by Reuters
Text size

The Red Cross said on Saturday it was still unable to evacuate civilians from the embattled Baba Amro district of Homs, as the Syrian military took its bombardment of the rebel-held area into a fourth week.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said there were "no concrete results" from its negotiations with both Syrian authorities and opposition fighters.

"Unfortunately we will not be able to enter Baba Amr today. We continue our negotiations, hoping that tomorrow [Sunday] we will able to enter Baba Amr to carry out our life-saving operations," said spokesman Hisham Hassan.

Opposition activists in Homs complained they saw no help coming from an international "Friends of Syria" conference in Tunis on Friday and said the world had abandoned them to be killed by security forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.

"They [foreign leaders] are still giving opportunities to this man who is killing us and has already killed thousands of people," said Nadir Husseini.

Despite the bloodshed, Assad is staging a referendum on Sunday on a new constitution that he says will pave the way for a multi-party parliamentary election within three months.

Security forces killed 61 people on Saturday, including 19 in Homs, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Sources close to the ICRC negotiations said talks failed due to confusion amid heavy shelling and bad communications with fighters and state forces. Much of Homs, and other opposition areas in Syria, are in a communications blackout with phone and internet connections cut off.

Damascus said it condemned all statements at the Tunis conference, which it dubbed "the enemies of Syria meeting."

"Syria deplores all voices calling for financing the armed groups which could lead to support for terrorism and hurt the interests of the Syrian people," Syria TV reported.

State news agency SANA reported the funerals of 21 members of the security forces killed by "armed terrorist groups" in Homs, Daraa, Idlib and areas near Damascus.

At the conference in Tunis, Western and Gulf Arab nations mounted the biggest push in weeks to end the violence, calling on Assad to cease all violence and allow access for humanitarian supplies.

Saudi Arabia's finance minister called the idea of arming the opposition an "excellent idea."

But activists in Homs, a city of over 800,000, said the Tunisia meeting was a failure that brought no relief from the bombardment.

"I don't understand what they are waiting for. Do they need to see half the people of Syria finished off first?" said a doctor speaking anonymously from the restive town of Zabadani.

"The people of Zabadani resent what happened in Tunis. We need them to arm the revolution."

Trapped journalists

Four Western journalists, two of whom were wounded in an attack that killed two other foreign journalists on Wednesday, have yet to be extracted from shattered Baba Amro. It was unclear if they were specifically part of the ICRC talks.

The ICRC said its local partner, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, had been able to carry out two evacuations in other areas of Homs than Baba Amr on Saturday.

But Husseini said people in Baba Amr were suspicious of the the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and did not want to work with a group "under the control of the regime."

The ICRC said the Red Crescent was independent and its members were risking their lives to help people affected by the violence.

A video uploaded by activists showed smoke curling up from buildings hit by rocketfire in Homs' Khalidiya district. Nearby, crowds carried six bodies wrapped in white shrouds, shouting "We swear to God we will not be silent about our martyrs."

"We have hundreds of wounded people crammed into houses. People die from blood loss. We just aren't capable of treating everyone," said Husseini.

Russia and China, which did not attend the Tunisia meeting, oppose Security Council action and there is little appetite for military intervention in Syria.

Referendum

The opposition has called for a boycott of the referendum, deriding Assad's reform pledges and demanding that he step down.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu questioned how the vote could take place in the midst of so much violence.

"On one hand you say you are holding a referendum and on the other you are attacking with tank fire on civilian areas. You still think the people will go to a referendum the next day in the same city?" he asked at a news conference in Istanbul.

Davutoglu, whose country has turned strongly against its former friend since the Syrian revolt began in March, said Syria should accept an Arab League plan that calls on Assad to quit.

In Baba Amro, activist Omar in Homs said the referendum meant nothing to the opposition and those hit by unrest.

"No one is going to vote. This was a constitution made to Bashar's tastes and meanwhile we are getting shelled and killed. More than 40 people were killed today and you want us to vote in a referendum? - No one is going to vote."