Aid teams to evacuate civilians from Homs

 

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it will try today to evacuate wounded and sick civilians and those who want to leave rebel-held areas in the embattled central Syrian city of Homs.

Red Cross spokesman Rabab al-Rifai said that in addition to the planned evacuations, the ICRC will also distribute humanitarian goods such as medical kits in the neighborhoods that have endured shelling and clashes for the past 10 days. Activists said the shelling in Homs continued Thursday, killing two people.

Homs, Syria's third largest city, has been one of the hardest hit regions since the uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime began 15 months ago. Rebels control several neighborhoods, which government troops have attacked intensely over the past two weeks. Activists said conditions in the areas under siege are growing more dire by the day. In some parts, there is barely any electricity or running water, telephone lines are unreliable and residents are forced to hide in shelters during daily shelling.

The International Committee of the Red Cross called on Syria's government and rebel groups Wednesday to allow it to reach trapped civilians and evacuate the wounded and sick.

Khaled Erksoussi, who is head of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent's emergency operations, said Syrian authorities have approved the operation, which is supposed to begin later Thursday.

"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 the ICRC's head of operations for the region, Beatrice Megevand-Roggo.

Among the hundreds of civilians besieged in the neighborhoods are about 90 Christians. The Christians, who are trapped in Homs' Hamidiyeh and Bustan Diwan neighborhoods, include four children under the age of 10.

Three attempts to evacuate neighborhoods Christians over the past 10 days did not succeed and a priest in the city said the rebels appear to want to keep the civilians inside to use them in the future as a bargaining chip. Thousands of Christians have fled Hamidiyeh and Bustan Diwan after they fell in rebel hands in February.

Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Syria's population, say they are particularly vulnerable to the violence sweeping the country of 22 million people. They are fearful that Syria will become another Iraq, with Christians caught in the crossfire between rival Islamic groups.

In other violence around Syria, activists said government troops shelling of the southern town of Inkhil killed at least nine people and wounded many others. The Local Coordination Committees and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said shells hit residential buildings in the town. The LCC said 13 were killed, while the Observatory put the death toll at nine adding: "There are reports of other martyrs who are still under the rubble."

Inkhil is in the southern province of Daraa, where the uprising began in March last year.

AP

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