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    International Aid Workers and Diplomats Press Syria on Crisis

    The International Committee of the Red Cross says aid workers in Syria have reached two Homs neighborhoods near Baba Amr, a rebellious district overrun by government forces last week after a nearly month-long assault.

    ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan says that a Red Cross and Syrian Arab Red Crescent convoy arrived Monday in the Homs neighborhoods of al-Tawzii and al-Inshaat, adjacent to Baba Amr.

    "The first point is that there is a convoy of aid, four trucks including food, mattresses, blankets enough to cover needs of several thousand persons that arrived today to Homs sent by the ICRC from Damascus," Hassan says. "Obviously there are many families who need help. There are also several families that had left Baba Amr in order to reach those two neighborhoods.''

    Aid workers have been trying to enter Baba Amr since Friday after receiving Syrian government approval to do so, but troops have blocked access to the district, citing security problems. Hassan says the ICRC is negotiating with Syrian authorities at the local and national level to remove obstacles to entering the former rebel stronghold.

    Rights groups say the humanitarian situation in Baba Amr is dire, with residents struggling to find food, water and medical supplies in freezing temperatures.

    Eyewitness Account

    A British security consultant who recently visited Homs says that residents of Baba Amr have created a sort of semblance of life amid the devastation. "There was some adjustments," says Tim Crockett, chief executive of Pioneer Consulting Group. "I don't think there was any adjustment to this being the new normal. There was certainly a resignation that no one was coming to their help...no one coming to their aid."

    Crockett says access to food and other basics was very desperate. He estimated there was about one week's supply of food left at the time of his visit, and said the supply route was not robust enough to provide enough food for residents of Baba Amr.

    He says the medical supplies were just as scarce. He described the medical care as "a waiting game" to get out of the country. The security contractor said one "lucky" man waited nearly a week to be taken to Lebanon for treatment for a shrapnel wound that he says shouldn't have been left untreated for six hours.  

    "They just haven't got enough to deal with that," says Crockett. He entered Syria with a CNN television crew via a border crossing with Lebanon in mid-February.

     

    Friends of Syria Key Facts

    • Who:More than 73 entities, including United States, European and Arab nations, United Nations, Arab League, African Union, Gulf Cooperation Council. Key Syrian ally, Russia, will not attend.
    • What:international meeting on Syria proposed by France and the United States
    • Where:Tunis, Tunisia
    • When:February 24, 2012
    • Why:Increase sanctions to force Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down; demand humanitarian access to places under government siege; support Syrian opposition groups with power transition plan.

    The International Response

    U.S. Senator John McCain is calling for a U.S.-led airstrike on Syria. McCain told members of the Senate Monday that the United States and its international partners need to carry out the strikes to create and defend safe havens for opposition forces to plan and carry out political and military activities.

    At the United Nations, U.N. humanitarian affairs chief Valerie Amos says Syria has granted her permission to visit Damascus from Wednesday to Friday to discuss the crisis. In a statement, she says she will urge "all parties" to give aid workers "unhindered access" in delivering supplies to people affected by the violence and evacuating the wounded. Amos has criticized Syria for not allowing her to visit the country sooner.

    In another diplomatic move, U.N.-Arab League special envoy for Syria Kofi Annan is expected to travel to the country Saturday on his first visit since being appointed to the post last month. Annan's office says he will seek an "urgent end to all violence and human rights violations," and promote a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis.

    China says it is sending its own envoy to Syria this week to work on a political solution to the unrest. The Chinese foreign ministry says former Chinese ambassador to Syria Li Huaxin will promote Beijing's proposal for the Syrian government and the opposition to accept an immediate cease-fire and begin a dialogue.

    The Violence Goes On


    A resident of Rastan says the government continued its two-week-long shelling campaign of the town Monday. Just south in Homs, Arab satellite channels say government forces set fire to some homes and shops in Baba Amr as they continue the ground assault started last week when the rebels fled the neighborhood.

    Syrian state television reports that government forces have "cleaned up a bastion of foreign, Islamic terrorists" in Baba Amr. It showed video of what it said are seized drugs and munitions.

    Opposition activists claim government tanks also have stormed the mountain town of Bayroud, near Syria's border, overlooking Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Witnesses along Lebanon's northern border with Syria said that several thousand people have fled into Lebanon in the past 48 hours.  

    The United Nations estimates that violence linked to the uprising has killed at least 7,500 people since it began last March. Syria blames the unrest on "armed terrorist groups" backed by foreign conspirators.

    Edward Yeranian contributed fo this report from Cairo.

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