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Residents cower as Assad renews assault on Homs


Marie Colvin who was killed in the besieged Syrian city of Homs

Marie Colvin who was killed in the besieged Syrian city of Homs

Marie Colvin who was killed in the besieged Syrian city of Homs

Syrian forces launched a fresh assault on Homs yesterday as the Red Cross pressed forward with efforts to deliver badly-needed aid to thousands of stranded people.

Two days after they fought their way into the rebel stronghold of Baba Amr, government forces shelled several other neighbourhoods of the city, the country's third largest with about one million people. They included districts where many of Baba Amr's residents had fled, activists said.

Meanwhile in Damascus, Red Crescent officials handed over to embassy officials the bodies of French photographer Remi Ochlik and American Marie Colvin who were killed in shelling on February 22 while trapped inside Baba Amr.

French Ambassador Eric Chevallier received the body of Mr Ochlik, and a Polish diplomat received the remains of American Ms Colvin. US interests in Syria are represented by Poland.

The Syrian regime said it was fighting "armed gangs" in Baba Amr, which has become a symbol of the nearly one-year-old uprising against President Bashar Assad's authoritarian rule. The revolt has killed more than 7,500 people, according to the UN.

The local co-ordination committees activist network said mortars slammed into the districts of Khaldiyeh, Bab Sbaa and Khader.

Abu Hassan al-Homsi, a doctor at a makeshift clinic in Khaldiyeh, said he treated a dozen people who were wounded, most lightly.

"This has become routine, the mortars start falling early in the morning," he said. Several homes were damaged from the morning shelling.

Conditions in Baba Amr are believed to be dire, with extended power outages, shortages of food and water, and lack of medical care. Syrian government forces took control of the neighbourhood last Thursday after rebels fled the district.

The Red Cross said the regime blocked its entry to Baba Amr last Friday, one day after the group received government permission to enter with a convoy of seven trucks carrying 15 tons of humanitarian aid including food, medical supplies and blankets.

"We are still in negotiations to enter Baba Amr," Red Cross spokesman Hicham Hassan said yesterday in Geneva.

The Syrians said they were not letting the Red Cross into Baba Amr because of safety concerns, including landmines, Mr Hassan said, adding that the organisation had not been able to verify the danger.

There was no immediate word on what was going on in Baba Amr yesterday, a day after activists accused regime forces of execution-style killings and a campaign of burning homes, raising fears of revenge in a country on the verge of civil war.

Telephone and internet lines were still down and activists nearby said they had no information from inside.

In the northern Idlib province, cemetery workers were burying people in parks because the graveyards were targets for regime forces, residents said.

"They (the Syrian army) don't let us pass the check point to get to the cemetery over there. So we have to dig graves in the park," Idlib cemetery worker Issam Abbas said.

Meanwhile, Turkey's foreign minister said a lack of international consensus over Syria was emboldening the government there to proceed with its crackdown.

Ahmet Davutoglu yesterday said the scale of the killing matches the bloodshed in the Balkans wars of the 1990s, and described the Syrian regime's actions as a "crime against humanity".

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Syria to give humanitarian workers immediate access.

"The images which we have seen in Syria are atrocious," he said. "It's totally unacceptable, intolerable."

In other violence yesterday, a suicide car bomb exploded in Daraa, killing at least two people and wounding 20, activists said.

Sunday Independent