Bloomberg News

Syrian Army Takes Control of Homs District as Rebels Withdraw After Siege

March 02, 2012

Syria’s army has “complete control” of the Baba Amr district in the central city of Homs, after rebel fighters pulled out of the area following a monthlong siege, a rights activist said.

Syrian troops carried out a series of raids and arrests in Baba Amr after entering yesterday when the rebel Free Syrian Army retreated, Mahmoud Merei, head of the Damascus-based Arab Organization for Human Rights, said in a phone interview today. Ten young men were executed there today, while at least 56 people died nationwide, Al Jazeera television said. Merei said at least 40 civilians were killed in fighting around Baba Amr before the military takeover.

A team from the International Committee of the Red Cross arrived in Homs and met with local volunteers in preparation for going to the Baba Amr area, said Saleh Dabbakeh, the ICRC’s representative in Damascus. Subsequently, the ICRC said in a statement that Red Cross and Syrian Red Crescent Society personnel weren’t allowed by authorities to proceed as planned to the area.

“It is unacceptable that people who have been in need of emergency assistance for weeks have still not received any help,” ICRC president Jakob Kellenberger said in the statement. “We are staying in Homs tonight in the hope of entering Baba Amr in the very near future.”

Pressure on Assad

The fighting in Homs has intensified international pressure on President Bashar al-Assad a year after his security forces began a crackdown on protests. The opposition is increasingly taking up arms, pushing the country into civil war. The United Nations estimates that more than 7,500 people have died.

The European Union is preparing “further targeted restrictive measures” against Syria, according to a statement from a summit of its leaders in Brussels. The document didn’t say what the measures are. The EU also said it recognized the Syrian National Council, the main opposition alliance, as “a legitimate representative of Syrians.”

The U.S. is working “to come up with a series of strategies that can provide humanitarian relief,” President Barack Obama said in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic magazine, released today. “They can also accelerate a transition to a peaceful and stable and representative Syrian government.”

Days Numbered

Obama said the U.S. thinks Assad’s “days are numbered,” though he pointed to difficulties including the “hugely splintered” opposition in Syria and obstruction from countries such as Russia.

The UN Security Council demanded yesterday that Assad allow access for humanitarian aid. The statement was backed by Russia, which along with China has blocked efforts by the U.S. and allies to get a Security Council resolution calling for Assad’s departure. Assad should start negotiations with the opposition, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told newspaper editors yesterday.

Russia and China may shift their unwavering support of the Syrian government, EU President Herman Van Rompuy said after today’s summit. “We are seeing signals that there is movement in the position of both countries,” he said.

The SNC said yesterday that it’s establishing a military office to support the rebel Free Syrian Army. Members of the council will lobby international allies to arm the opposition and recognize the SNC, alliance member Mustafa Hamitoglu said yesterday in an interview from Istanbul.

Opposition Support

French President Nicolas Sarkozy today pledged support for the opposition alliance, and said France is closing its embassy in Syria. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said Syrian officials responsible for the violence should be prosecuted for war crimes.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is due to meet with members of the SNC in Istanbul today. Growing numbers of Syrians are fleeing to Turkey, and accounts by new arrivals suggest the risk of a massacre, a Turkish Foreign Ministry official said today on customary condition of anonymity.

The ministry said about 10,750 Syrians are living in tent cities in the border province of Hatay, up from 9,500 at the end of January.

Syrian forces burned down a village of about 1,000 people near the Turkish border after surrounding it with 2,000 troops and 15 tanks in an operation that began at 5 a.m. today, Turkey’s state-run Anatolia news agency said. The NTV news channel showed more than 200 Syrians fleeing across the border.

Journalists’ Remains

Fighting resumed today in the village of Ahsam in the northern province of Idlib, where heavy gunfire and explosions were heard, Al Jazeera reported.

The bodies of two foreign journalists killed in Homs were found by the army and transferred to Damascus, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported.

Forensic tests will be carried out at a hospital in the Syrian capital on Marie Colvin, a U.S. journalist who worked for the U.K.’s Sunday Times, and French photographer Remi Ochlik, the agency said, citing a Foreign Ministry official.

A Spanish journalist, Javier Espinosa, who was also reported dead by SANA earlier today, said by phone from Beirut that he escaped to Lebanon two days ago and was not injured.

To contact the reporters on this story: Nayla Razzouk in Dubai at nrazzouk2@bloomberg.net; Emre Peker in Ankara at epeker2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net


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