Rebels re­treat from strong­hold

Leave be­cause they couldn’t de­fend civil­ians; As­sad to let Red Cross in

The Washington Times Daily - - World - BY ASHISH KUMAR SEN

Syr­ian op­po­si­tion fight­ers pulled out of a strong­hold in the restive western city of Homs on Thurs­day, say­ing they did not have enough weapons to de­fend the civil­ians.

Soon af­ter the an­nounce­ment of the with­drawal, Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s regime agreed to let the Red Cross bring hu­man­i­tar­ian aid into the Baba Amr neigh­bor­hood.

The rebels de­cided “to strate­gi­cally with­draw for the sake of the civil­ians re­main­ing in­side the neigh­bor­hood,” said Omar Shakir, a spokesman for the rebels’ Baba Amr Brigade.

“The hu­man­i­tar­ian sit­u­a­tion is at its worst, as there is no food what­so­ever, no medicines, no water and no electricity,” he said. “There is no com­mu­ni­ca­tion in the area, thus mak­ing mat­ters much worse. We are also lack­ing in enough arms to de­fend the civil­ians.”

Homs, a hot­bed of the 11-month-long up­ris­ing against the As­sad regime, has been un­der siege from Syr­ian troops since Feb. 4.

In­ter­net and phone con­nec­tions in Baba Amr re­mained cut off for a sec­ond day, and res­i­dents in other parts of Homs said they had heard loud ex­plo­sions from the di­rec­tion of the neigh­bor­hood ear­lier in the day.

Water and electricity to parts of the city have been cut off, and food and med­i­cal sup­plies are run­ning dan­ger­ously low.

The lack of electricity made it dif­fi­cult to op­er­ate the freez­ers in which the bod­ies of slain Amer­i­can-born jour­nal­ist Marie Colvin and French pho­tog­ra­pher Remi Och­lik were stored. They were killed on Feb. 22, when the build­ing where they were stay­ing was shelled by Syr­ian troops.

They were buried in Baba Amr on Mon­day be­cause their bod­ies had started to de­com­pose, said Sami Ibrahim, a Homs-based spokesman for the Syr­ian Net­work of Hu­man Rights.

Mean­while, Saleh Dab­bakeh, a Da­m­as­cus-based spokesman for the In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross, said the hu­man­i­tar­ian group in­tended to take aid into Baba Amr on Fri­day morn­ing.

“We have re­ceived the green light from the au­thor­i­ties to en­ter Baba Amr and take in food as­sis­tance and med­i­cal aid, and to try and evac­u­ate as many wounded as well,” he said in a phone in­ter­view.

The As­sad regime has, how­ever, not agreed to a Red Cross re­quest for a two-hour daily cease-fire. Mr. Dab­bakeh said hu­man­i­tar­ian op­er­a­tions would de­pend on the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion.

Syr­ian sol­diers en­tered Baba Amr on Thurs­day af­ter­noon as the op­po­si­tion fight­ers melted away.

At least 27 peo­ple were killed in Baba Amr. The fight­ing had stopped by night­fall on Thurs­day, but res­i­dents said Syr­ian troops were de­stroy­ing empty houses and cars.

“Ev­ery build­ing that was not shelled be­fore is now a tar­get. No one can stop them,” said Mr. Ibrahim.

Thou­sands of res­i­dents have fled the neigh­bor­hood. Baba Amr’s pop­u­la­tion, which was orig­i­nally 95,000, has dropped to around 6,000.

For the first time in the con­flict, troops fired Scud mis­siles at the neigh­bor­hood on Wed­nes­day, Mr. Ibrahim said. He­li­copter gun­ships and also tanks have been used in the fight­ing.

Mean­while, Syria’s main op­po­si­tion group set up a “mil­i­tary bureau” to unite the armed up­ris­ing against the As­sad regime.

The Syr­ian Na­tional Coun­cil said the bureau will “track the armed op­po­si­tion groups, or­ga­nize and unify their ranks un­der one cen­tral com­mand.”

A uni­fied armed op­po­si­tion would likely pro­vide some re­as­sur­ance to the op­po­si­tion’s in­ter­na­tional sup­port­ers who have expressed con­cerns about weapons fall­ing into the hands of ex­trem­ists.

The Syr­ian Na­tional Coun­cil said it would pro­vide the Free Syr­ian Army, made up of de­fec­tors from Syria’s mil­i­tary, with “all the sup­port it needs to com­pletely ful­fill its de­fense re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, in­clud­ing se­cur­ing nec­es­sary pro­tec­tion for civil­ians.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

Muhammed Ibrahim, 18, says he was lead­ing a crowd shout­ing anti-bashar As­sad slo­gans in the vil­lage of Kafr Nboda, Syria, when the pro­test­ers were struck by a shell fired by the Syr­ian army on Feb. 16. He is re­cu­per­at­ing at Ke­mal Ataturk Univer­sity hospi­tal in An­takya, Turkey.

Graf­fiti de­pict­ing a rev­o­lu­tion­ary flag and a slo­gan that reads “Go Out” is seen on the out­skirts of Idlib in north­ern Syria on Thurs­day. Syria’s main op­po­si­tion group has set up a “mil­i­tary bureau” to unite the armed up­ris­ing against the As­sad regime.

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