By Ben Hubbard / AP
BEIRUT: The Red Cross is trying to gain access to a war-ravaged neighborhood in the Syrian city of Homs but it could be days before aid teams are allowed in, a spokesman said Sunday.
The group has been trying to enter the district of Baba Amr since Friday, the day after Syrian troops seized it from rebel forces after a nearly month-long siege. Activists say hundreds were killed in the daily shelling that led up to the battle, many while sneaking out of their homes to forage for food.
The Syrian government said it would allow the Red Cross to enter the area Friday, but troops on the ground denied a Red Cross convoy entry.
On Sunday, spokesman Shueib Shaaban of the Homs chapter of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, the Red Cross’s local branch, said the group had agreed with the provincial governor to enter the neighborhood on Tuesday — four day after it had first tried to enter.
But a Red Cross spokesman in Damascus, Saleh Dabbakeh, said the group was still negotiating with authorities and that he hoped they’d enter Sunday. He gave no further details.
Syrian authorities were no immediately available for comment.
Homs, Syria’s third-largest city with a population of 1 million, has emerged as a central battleground in the conflict, which started last March with protests calling for the ouster of authoritarian President Bashar Assad in some of the country’s impoverished hinterlands. The protests spread as the government waged a bloody crackdown on dissent, and many in the opposition have taken up arms to defend themselves and attack government troops.
The UN says more than 7,500 people have been killed. Activists put the number at over 8,000.
Shaaban of the Red Crescent said many Baba Amr residents had fled to the Abil area on the city’s south side and to other neighboring villages. A 15-member Red Cross team entered Abil to assist displaced people there, he said.
Also Sunday, China offered a proposal to end the violence in Syria, calling for an immediate cease-fire and talks by all parties. But it stood firm in its opposition to foreign intervention.
The proposal, posted on the Foreign Ministry’s website, describes the situation in Syria as “grave” and calls for an immediate end to all violence as well as humanitarian relief and negotiations mediated by the UN and the Arab League.
But it rejects outside interference, sanctions and attempts at regime change.
“We oppose anyone interfering in Syria’s internal affairs under the pretext of ‘humanitarian’ issues,” the proposal said. “China does not approve of armed interference or pushing for ‘regime change’ in Syria and believes that use or threat of sanctions does not help to resolve the issue.”
As international pressure against Assad’s regime has grown, China and Russia have protected it from censure in the UN Security Council.
Beijing is usually reluctant to authorize sanctions or intervention against another country, fearing the precedent may one day be used against China’s own authoritarian government.
Syrian activists also reported clashes between rebel fighters and government troops in the northern Idlib province. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said one soldier was killed and that the army was raiding homes in nearby villages following the rebel capture of an intelligence officer. –Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, contributed reporting.