Red Cross Barred From Entering Bab Amr in Syria
The Red Cross has been able to retrieve the bodies of American war correspondent Marie Colvin and French photographer Rémi Ochlik, both of whom were killed last Wednesday when a media center in the Bab Amr district of Homs was shelled. Syrian authorities handed over the bodies of both journalists, which have arrived in the capital of Damascus and will be flown home. But a seven-vehicle Red Cross convoy was unable to enter Bab Amr to bring desperately needed food and medical supplies, despite having gotten approval from the Syrian government.
Red Cross Jakob Kellenberger said that the halting of the Red Cross convoy was simply “unacceptable.” Bab Arm has been under siege for nearly a month by Syrian forces, who took control of the district on Thursday after members of the rebel Free Syrian Army made a “tactical withdrawal.” Since then, there have been reports of soldiers and pro-government gunmen known as shabiha carrying out house-by-house searches. Bassel Fouad, a Syrian activist who fled to Lebanon from Bab Amr two days ago, told the Guardian that ten men were lined up on Thursday and shot dead and that anyone over the age of 14 — other reports have said over the age of 10 — has been detained; these reports could not be independently verified.
Kellenberger said that the Red Cross convoy would remain overnight in Homs in the hope of being able to enter soon. The arrival of the convoy occurred as at least 12 people, including children, were killed in Rastan, another central city.
On Friday, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that the international community “had failed in its duty, and inaction had encouraged Syria’s leaders in their repression of civilians.” The UN estimates that over 7,500 have been killed since the uprising began almost a year ago; activists put the death toll at over 8,000.
The U.S. and Britain have already withdrawn their embassies; France said on Friday that it is closing its embassy. Ambassador Eric Chevallier had been recalled to Paris and had only recently returned to Damascus to assist in efforts to evacuate French journalist Edith Bouvier, who was wounded in the attack that killed Colvin and Ochlik. She and her colleague William Daniels were first smuggled out of Homs into Lebanon and arrived in France on Friday.
Protests were held throughout Syria on Friday in what was named “The Friday of Equipping the Free Syrian Army” — a reference to reports that Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other countries have spoken of arming the opposition — and despite the presence of government forces. Protests occurred even in Homs; in Syria’s largest city, Aleppo; and in some suburbs of Damascus. Central Damascus itself was quiet with a stepped-presence of security forces and no buses or mass transport allowed downtown.
While criticizing the West for siding with the Syrian opposition, Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin of Russia seemed to distance himself from President Bashar al-Assad. In interviews with six foreign newspapers in Moscow, Putin said that “serious domestic problems” were more than evident in Syria and that he did not “know whether Syrian society — the government forces and the opposition — can come to an agreement, find some consensus that is acceptable to everyone, but that would have been the best solution.”
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