Journalists' bodies handed over by Syrian regime

Red Cross convoy held up by government forces outside Homs as violence shows no signs of abating across the country

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The Independent Online

The bodies of the Sunday Times reporter Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik, killed 11 days ago by Syrian army shelling in Homs, were handed over yesterday. Their remains were flown to Paris overnight. Ms Colvin's body is then expected to be flown next week to the United States, where she was born.

Meanwhile, back in the besieged city, early-morning shelling resumed, and the stand-off continued between the Syrian army and a Red Cross relief mission trying to reach thousands stranded in a district overrun by regime troops. Conditions in the western neighbourhood of Baba Amr have been described as catastrophic, with power cuts, shortages of food and water, and no medical care for the sick and wounded.

Syrian government forces took control of the district on Thursday after rebels fled under the bombardment, which activists claimed has killed hundreds of people since early February. The Red Cross said it had received permission from President Bashar al-Assad's government to enter Baba Amr, and a convoy of seven trucks with 15 tons of humanitarian aid including food, medical supplies and blankets left Damascus on Friday. It took several hours in heavy snowfall to reach Homs, but once it neared the Baba Amr district, the government prevented its entry, citing safety concerns, including land mines.

Other areas in Homs came under heavy shelling yesterday, including places where many of Baba Amr's residents had fled. The Local Co-ordination Committees activist network said mortars had hit the districts of Khaldiyeh, Bab Sbaa and Khader. Abu Hassan al-Homsi, a doctor at a makeshift clinic in Khaldiyeh district, said he treated a dozen wounded people.

Another Khaldiyeh resident, who wanted to remain nameless , said the district has been without water and fuel for heating for a week, amid freezing temperatures. "We are collecting rain and snow water, and cutting trees to burn to warm ourselves," he said.

The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, yesterday called on Syria to give humanitarian workers immediate access to people who desperately need aid. "The images which we have seen in Syria are atrocious," he said. "How, as a human being, can you bear this situation?"

In other outbreaks of violence yesterday, a suicide car bomb exploded in Daraa, killing at least two people and wounding 20, activists said. The state-run Sana news agency said the blast occurred in an area known as Daraa al-Balad, causing casualties including civilians and security forces.

It blamed "terrorists" for the attack, but residents taking part in the funerals blamed the regime. "They were killed by an explosion prepared by the Assad gang," a banner read. During the funeral procession, shown live online, a crowd of people cried: "Death rather than humiliation" and "We will take our revenge on Maher and Bashar" – a reference to Assad's younger brother Maher, believed to be leading the crackdown.

Damascus, an Assad stronghold, has seen three suicide bombings in the past two months – proof, says the regime, that it is being targeted by "terrorists". Saturday's bombing in Daraa marked the first time a suicide bombing has struck an opposition stronghold.