GENEVA The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Monday that it had distributed food and other aid to some neighborhoods of the battered Syrian city of Homs but could not get clearance from authorities to enter the hardest-hit district of Baba Amr.
The government was still blocking its access to the former rebel bastion, where civilians remain trapped in freezing temperatures in need of food, water and medical care, Yves Daccord, the ICRC director-general, said.
Negotiations continued with the military and government as ICRC aid workers and volunteers and ambulances from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent reached two neighborhoods of Homs to which many families from Baba Amr had fled, a spokesman said.
Daccord, in an interview with Swiss Radio and Television (RTS), said about its stalled access to Baba Amr: "At the moment we are blocked by the Syrian army and government."
"The negotiations are being led on site in Homs with military commanders and also in Damascus," he said.
Daccord, referring to Baba Amr, recaptured from rebels last week after a nearly month-long siege and daily shelling by Syrian forces, said:
"The situation is extremely difficult, the weather conditions are tragic. It is very cold, there is fighting and people don't have access to food or water, and above all there is a big problem of evacuating the wounded."
But Monday marked the fourth day that the independent humanitarian agency failed to gain access to Baba Amr.
ACCESS TO TWO AREAS NEAR BABA AMR
ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan said ICRC and Red Crescent teams, including ambulances and a doctor, reached the two Homs neighborhoods of al-Inshaat and al-Tawzi' al-Ijbari on Monday.
"Al-Inshaat is the closest neighborhood to Baba Amr. Obviously there is the resident population in need of help, as that neighborhood was also affected by the violence, but it also hosts many families who have fled Baba Amr," he said.
In al-Inshaat, they distributed assistance to 100 families, or roughly 600 people. "Some families have begun returning to al-Inshaat after having left during the fighting," Hassan said.
An ICRC convoy carrying food for "several thousand people," blankets and hygiene kits arrived in Homs from Damascus on Monday, the second in less than a week and the fifth since February 11.
"In the past few days we have been stepping up our humanitarian operation in Syria," Hassan said.
There have been reports of bloody reprisals by state forces who took back the former rebel bastion last Thursday.
Daccord, asked about the reports of executions committed in Baba Amr, said:
"Our concern is of course linked to what you can hear and sees in Homs, but above all related to the fact that unfortunately I fear we will be faced with this conflict or let's say a situation of fighting that risks lasting for several months or even longer...and it is the civilian population who will really pay the price."
The ICRC is still pressing for a daily two-hour humanitarian ceasefire across Syria, an initiative it launched two weeks ago with both the Syrian government and opposition forces, he said.
"Two hours is not very long but it is essential for the population simply to get access to the medicines they need, in order to rescue the wounded and to help them," Daccord said.
"Homs is not the only place at stake, there are other places in Syria that are problematic," he said.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Michael Roddy)