Red Cross aid convoy approaches Homs

 

A Red Cross aid convoy prepared to enter the shattered Baba Amro district of Homs today after a Syrian official declared the area "cleansed" and the opposition spoke of a massacre by President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

The residential district became a symbol of resistance to Assad after government troops surrounded it with tanks and artillery and shelled it intensively for weeks, killing and wounding civilians cowering in its ruined buildings.

Rebels withdrew yesterday in a key moment in the year-old uprising. An official at Syria's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates said the army had "cleansed Baba Amro from the foreign-backed armed groups of terrorists."

Activists said Syria's army had begun hunting down and killing insurgents who had stayed to cover their comrades' retreat, although the reports could not be verified. They said 10 young men were shot dead today.

In Geneva, the United Nations human rights body reminded Assad of his obligations under international law. "We are alarmed at reports starting to come out of the Baba Amro district of Homs after it was taken over by government forces yesterday," spokesman Rupert Colville said.

Rami Abdelrahman, from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said Syrian troops had entered Ain al-Baida, near the Turkish border and 100-150 rebels had fled the area.

One pro-government figure said troops had "broken the back" of the uprising and the rebel withdrawal heralded impending victory over what he termed a Western-backed insurgency.

In Beirut, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Syrian authorities had agreed that the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the ICRC could enter Baba Amro to evacuate casualties and to take food and medicine to civilians trapped by the fighting and siege.

"We have positive indications from the Syrian authorities to go in. We are ready to enter Baba Amro to evacuate first the sick and wounded and to take food and medical supplies," Samar al-Kadi, ICRC spokeswoman in Beirut, told Reuters.

The ICRC later said a convoy had reached Homs and was preparing to enter Baba Amro. The rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) said on Thursday it was leaving the district - normally home to 100,000 residents. Only a few thousand people remain.

Conditions in the heavily bombarded district are hellish. TV footage showed heavy snow and freezing weather, with residents lacking electricity or fuel for heating. There is also a shortage of food and medical supplies.

Barely a building has escaped damage from artillery shelling and many are pock-marked with bullet holes.

'Deep disappointment'

In a rare show of unity with Western powers, Russia and China joined other Security Council members at the United Nations in expressing "deep disappointment" at Syria's failure to allow the UN humanitarian aid chief Valerie Amos to visit the country, and urged that she be allowed in immediately.

It was the first statement on Syria from the council, which has been deadlocked on the issue, since August last year. But it was not immediately clear how far Moscow and Beijing - hitherto Assad supporters - had shifted their position.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin appeared to distance himself further from Assad in an interview with a group of European editors, saying he had no special relationship with the president.

"It is up to the Syrians to decide who should run their country ... We need to make sure they stop killing each other," The Times newspaper quoted Putin as saying today.

France announced it would shut its Syrian embassy and was ready to step up support of the rebels if the UN Security Council cleared the way for such a move. "Dictators will all, one day, have to pay for their actions," President Nicolas Sarkozy said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Syria's rulers would be held to account. "We need to start collecting the evidence now so that one day, no matter how long it takes, there will be a day of reckoning for this dreadful regime," Cameron told reporters at a summit of EU leaders in Brussels.

The European Union was planning to call for increased pressure on Assad, including sanctions, according to a draft of its conclusions. It was also preparing to urge the Arab League to convene a meeting of the Syrian National Council, which it said it recognised as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

The EU has over the past months been adding names to a list of people it sanctions with travel bans and asset freezes.

As news of the opposition pull-out from Baba Amro spread, video footage released on the internet appeared to show the bodies of American journalist Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik being buried in Homs, where they were killed in shelling eight days ago.

French journalists Edith Bouvier, who was wounded in the same bombardment, and William Daniels flew to Paris on Friday from Lebanon, Sarkozy said, the last of a handful of reporters trapped in the city.

Armed rebels and defecting soldiers have been spearheading the revolt against Assad that began with largely peaceful protests inspired by the Arab Spring, but escalated after a government crackdown.

As the drama unfolded in Homs, a Lebanese official close to Damascus said a defeat for the rebels in Homs would leave the opposition without any major stronghold in Syria, easing the crisis for Assad, who remained confident he could survive.

President Assad, a London-trained eye doctor, is increasingly isolated internationally in his struggle to crush the armed insurrection.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul told Reuters on Thursday that Russia and Iran would soon realise they had little choice but to join international diplomatic efforts for Assad's removal.

The United Nations says Syrian security forces have killed more than 7,500 civilians since the revolt began last March. Syria's government said in December that "armed terrorists" had killed more than 2,000 soldiers and police during the unrest.

Reuters

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA powerful collection of reportage on Egypt’s cycle of awakening and relapse
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little