Red Cross reaches Homs, blocked from worst-hit area

The govt was still blocking ICRC access to the Baba Amr, where civilians remain trapped in freezing temperatures.

Geneva: The International Committee of the Red Cross said Monday that it had distributed food and other aid to some neighborhoods of the battered Syrian city of Homs but could not get clearance from authorities to enter the hardest-hit district of Baba Amr.

The government was still blocking its access to the former rebel bastion, where civilians remain trapped in freezing temperatures in need of food, water and medical care, Yves Daccord, ICRC director-general, said.

Negotiations continued with the military and government as ICRC aid workers and volunteers and ambulances from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent reached two neighborhoods of Homs to where many families from Baba Amr had fled, a spokesman said.

Daccord, in an interview with Swiss Radio and Television (RTS), said about its stalled access to Baba Amr: "At the moment we are blocked by the Syrian army and government."

"We hope to get in to Baba Amr today (Monday), we have to be firm and not give up. The negotiations are being led on site in Homs with military commanders and also in Damascus," he said.

But sometimes there was a gap between "the reality of combat" and the situation which authorities in the capital described to the independent aid agency, he said.

Daccord, referring to Baba Amr, recaptured from rebels last week after a nearly month-long siege and daily shelling by Syrian forces, said: "The situation is extremely difficult, the weather conditions are tragic. It is very cold, there is fighting and people don`t have access to food or water, and above all there is a big problem of evacuating the wounded."

Access to Two Areas Near Baba Amr

ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan said ICRC and Red Crescent teams, including ambulances and a doctor, reached the two Homs neighborhoods of al-Inshaat and al-Tawzi` al-Ijbari Monday.

"Al-Inshaat is the closest neighborhood to Baba Amr. Obviously there is the resident population in need of help, as that neighborhood was also affected by the violence, but it also hosts many families who have fled Baba Amr," he said.

"They want to assist as many people as possible," he said.

An ICRC convoy carrying food for "several thousand people," blankets and hygiene kits arrived in Homs from Damascus on Monday, the second in less than a week and fifth since February 11, Hassan said.

Teams from the Red Cross and Syrian Arab Red Crescent managed to distribute food and medical aid Sunday in the village of Abel near Homs but were shut out for a third day from Baba Amr.

There have been reports of bloody reprisals by state forces who took back the former rebel bastion last Thursday.

Daccord, asked about the reports of executions committed in Baba Amr, said: "Our concern is of course linked to what you can hear and sees in Homs, but above all related to the fact that unfortunately I fear we will be faced with this conflict or let`s say a situation of fighting that risks lasting for several months or even longer...and it is the civilian population who will really pay the price."

The ICRC is still pressing for a daily two-hour humanitarian cease-fire across Syria, an initiative it launched two weeks ago with both the Syrian government and opposition forces, he said.

"Two hours is not very long but it is essential for the population simply to get access to the medicines they need, in order to rescue the wounded and to help them," Daccord said.

"Homs is not the only place at stake, there are other places in Syria that are problematic," he said.

Bureau Report