Syria to let Red Cross into Homs rebel bastion
GENEVA (Reuters) - Syrian authorities will let Red Cross and Red Crescent aid workers enter the Baba Amro district of Homs Friday to deliver supplies and evacuate the sick and wounded, said an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spokesman.
The move came as a three-week Syrian army siege of the neighborhood appeared to be ending Thursday with the withdrawal of rebel forces.
"The Syrian Red Crescent and ICRC have received a green light from the authorities to go to Baba Amro tomorrow, Friday, in order to bring in much needed assistance including food and medical aid and to carry out evacuation operations," ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan told Reuters.
The ICRC - the only international humanitarian agency deploying aid workers in Syria - has also received a "direct appeal" from the Syrian opposition to enter Baba Amro and assist its citizens, he said.
Syrian authorities also gave the ICRC "positive indications" about the agency's public appeal of February 21 to both sides for a daily, two-hour cease-fire to deliver life-saving relief supplies, Hassan said.
The Free Syrian Army issued a public statement last week endorsing the ICRC proposal, but the position of different opposition groups remains to be seen, he said.
The green light came as Syrian rebels left Baba Amro after a 26-day military siege aimed at crushing a symbol of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.
"MORE URGENT THAN EVER"
Hassan, asked about the timing of the agreement, said: "We can't speculate on the timing and reasons of this green light. We have, however, been in negotiations for several days.
"It's more urgent than ever to implement this initiative of a humanitarian cease-fire with the shortest delay, all the more as the humanitarian situation is worsening."
A statement in the name of the fighters urged the ICRC and other humanitarian groups to enter Baba Amro and bring aid to 4,000 civilians who had stayed in their damaged houses.
ICRC aid trucks were meant to go from Damascus to Homs on Thursday, but snow prevented them from reaching the city, 160 km (100 miles) north of the capital, Hassan said.
In recent weeks, he added, the ICRC's local affiliate, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, had distributed aid elsewhere in Homs, including to people who fled Baba Amro. But it had not been able to take supplies and services into the rebel stronghold itself.
Hassan, asked about efforts to evacuate the wounded French journalist Edith Bouvier from the district, said there had been contact between the ICRC and French authorities about her.
"On the other hand, it is clear that the ICRC carries out its operations with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent in an independent way," he told Reuters TV.
"As we have said, we have tried to bring aid and relief to all the injured journalists as well as the whole population and hope that tomorrow (Friday) we can do that."
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Signe Grejsen Nissen; Editing by Sophie Hares)
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