Red Cross Finds Syria's Baba Amr Empty After Regime Crackdown

UN humanitarian chief also arrives at Homs neighborhood after denied entry to Syria last week; delegation seeks to convince authorities to allow free transfer of aid to civilians.

A Red Cross spokesman said on Wednesday that most inhabitants have fled the shattered Syrian neighborhood of Baba Amr in the central city of Hom, as the UN humanitarian chief held rare direct talks in the Syrian capital Damascus.

ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan told the Associated Press in Geneva that the Syrian Arab Red Crescent toured the district for about 45 minutes on Wednesday. It was the first outside view of the situation there since a military siege ended last week. The UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos was also allowed into Baba Amr.

Baba Amr - AFP - March 5 2012

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent aid convoy found that most residents had fled the devastated Homs district.

Valerie Amos, who was denied entry to Syria last week, arrived on a three-day mission to try to persuade authorities to grant unhindered access for aid workers to deliver life-saving assistance to civilians. She was on her way to Homs as well on Wednesday afternoon.

A Red Cross aid convoy has been unable to enter Baba Amr since arriving in Homs last Friday, a day after rebel fighters fled following nearly a month of shelling by Syrian forces.

But a team of Syrian Arab Red Crescent aid workers who entered Baba Amr on Wednesday for the first time in 10 days found that most residents had fled.

"The Syrian Arab Red Crescent stayed inside Baba Amr forabout 45 minutes. They found that most inhabitants had left Baba Amr to areas that have been already visited by the ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent in the past week," ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan told Reuters in Geneva.

The government had sealed off the neighborhood since regime forces recaptured it from rebels last Thursday following a deadly, month long assault.

These other areas were in Homs and the nearby village of Abel where ICRC and Red Crescent workers distributed aid on Wednesday, the second time since Sunday, he said.

"She (Amos) just completed a meeting with the MFA (Ministryof Foreign Affairs) and is now en route to Homs," Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman of the United Nations Office for theCoordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said in Geneva.
The Syrian foreign ministry confirmed Amos had held talks with Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem but gave no details.

Syrian state news agency SANA said the minister had stressed that the country's leadership was doing its best to meet civilians' needs despite the burden of "unfair sanctions"imposed by some Arab and Western countries.

The ICRC is the only international agency allowed to deploy aid workers in Syria. They have been providing food and medical supplies since the conflict began nearly a year ago.

Red Crescent teams previously evacuated a total of 30 people needing medical attention from Baba Amr, some seriously wounded,on its two previous visits, according to the ICRC.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has voiced alarm at reports that government forces have executed, imprisoned and tortured people in Baba Amr.

Despite a green light received from the Syrian authorities nearly a week ago and their "daily assurances", ICRC officials have not been allowed into the neighborhood.

"Meanwhile other areas are affected by unrest and other people need assistance," Hassan said on Wednesday.

Over the past few days, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent has also distributed aid provided by the ICRC to Hama, Idlib, Deraa,
Rural Damascus and the eastern city of Raqqa, he said.

"The situation as we see it today is that unrest is still taking place mainly in Hama, Deraa, Rural Damascus, Homs and Idlib," Hassan said.

The civilian population is reeling from the economic impact of the fighting and their shrinking purchasing power, he said.

"We just finished distributions in the village of Abel for the second time. It was mainly food, blankets and baby milk,"Hassan said.

He was referring to a village outside Homs city where some residents of Baba Amr have fled. Some 350 families, roughly people, received supplies in the Red Crescent's first distribution there on Sunday, according to the ICRC spokesman.

Syrian tanks bombarded other opposition areas in Homs overnight, anti-Assad activists said, although an ICRC spokes man in Damascus said the city was quieter than before.

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