UN Relief Head Reaches Syria; Clinton Says Regime "Hits New Low"

By: From CNN, Posted by Ralph Hipp
By: From CNN, Posted by Ralph Hipp
(AP Photo/Bassem Tellawi)

(AP Photo/Bassem Tellawi)

SYRIA (CNN) -- The United Nations emergency relief chief met Wednesday in Syria with top government officials and visited at least one area ravaged by weeks of government attacks.

After having complained the regime would not let her into the country, where the government has been fighting to crush a yearlong uprising, Valerie Amos met Wednesday with Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, the Syrian Foreign Ministry said.

She entered Baba Amr -- a neighborhood in Homs that has been besieged in the government crackdown -- along with a team from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. The visit lasted 45 minutes, ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan said.

The visit came as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lashed out at the Syria government for the growing humanitarian crisis.

"The regime's refusal to allow humanitarian workers to help feed the hungry, tend to the injured, (and) bury the dead marks a new low," she said in Washington "Tons of food and medicine are standing by while more civilians die and the regime launches new assaults. This is unacceptable, and we agree completely with a great majority of the international community. The regime must, as it promised last November, withdraw its forces, release political prisoners, permit peaceful protests and allow international journalists to do their jobs, which is to tell the truth."

Syria, which blames the violence on "terrorists," said on the state-run news agency SANA that Amos "stressed respect for Syria's sovereignty and rejection of using the humanitarian dimension for political purposes."

Al-Moallem "stressed that the Syrian leadership is doing its best to provide the foodstuffs and medical care and services for all citizens despite the burdens it faces because of the unfair sanctions imposed by some Arab and Western countries on Syria," SANA reported.

In Syria, opposition activists reported yet another day of widespread violence by the government.

At least 40 people were killed Wednesday, including seven children, one woman and two military recruits, according to the opposition Local Coordination Committees in Syria. The death toll included 26 people in Homs, seven in Idlib, two in the Aleppo suburb of Atareb, three in Daraa and two in Damascus suburbs, the group said.

SANA said 14 "army and law enforcement martyrs" were buried Wednesday.

Clinton called on all countries to come together to bring an end to the violence by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

"It is past time for all Syrians to break with Assad and stand against this bloodshed," she said.

Syrian authorities last week granted teams from the Red Cross and the Red Crescent permission to enter Baba Amr; but on Friday, the ambulances and aid workers carrying food and medical supplies were turned away.

Opposition activists in Homs say al-Assad's regime had been trying to clean up evidence of a bloody massacre in Baba Amr before aid workers arrived.

On Wednesday, the Red Crescent team found that most of the people who were living in Baba Amr had fled, according to ICRC spokesman Hassan, who spoke to CNN from Geneva, Switzerland.

SANA said authorities have restored "stability and security" to the neighborhood and that it was attacked by "armed terrorist groups." It said workers were "removing the debris left by the terrorists."

State TV said Wednesday that Baba Amr residents were "returning to their homes as the destruction caused by armed terrorists is being restored."

Before she traveled to Syria, Amos said, "My aim is to urge all parties to allow unhindered access for humanitarian relief workers so that they can evacuate the wounded and deliver essential supplies."

In New York, at a meeting of the U.N. Security Council, Russian envoy Vitaly Churkin said Syrian rebels were being trained at a camp inside Libya.

"We have expressed concerns about the noncontrol of Libyan arms in the region. However, it is not just weapons that are going abroad" Churkin said. "We have received information that in Libya, with the support of the authority, there is a special training center for the Syrian revolutionaries, and people are sent to Syria to attack the legal government. This is completely unacceptable."

Such activity, he said, "is undermining stability in the Middle East."

Libyan authorities were not immediately available for comment.
Syrian activist answers accusations

Al-Assad continues to assert that the Syrian people support his regime. At a meeting Tuesday, he "underscored that the power of every state lies in popular support," SANA reported Wednesday. And al-Assad insisted that Syrians "have once more proved their ability to safeguard Syria and build the renewed Syria through their determination to pursue reforms in parallel with encountering the terrorism backed by foreign sides."

Crowds of people demonstrated Wednesday in support of the regime in Damascus, SANA reported. Meanwhile, opposition activists reported heavy attacks by the Syrian regime.

A member of the Binnish Coordination Committee, a local opposition group, reported seeing 42 tanks and 131 armored personnel carriers heading toward Idlib. Activists were expecting the Syrian army to begin a full-fledged assault on the city.

In Hama, more than 15 homes were destroyed and an ancient citadel was severely damaged by artillery shelling from the regime, Local Coordination Committees activists said.

In Homs, dozens were wounded amid heavy shelling by regime forces, the LCC said.

In some Damascus neighborhoods, security forces carried out a raid-and-arrest campaign and demolished homes, the LCC said. In the Harasta suburb, people were wounded by gunfire from regime forces, and clashes were reported, the LCC said. In Idlib, near the Turkish border, there was heavy and indiscriminate fire, the LCC said.

CNN cannot independently confirm reports across Syria because the government has severely restricted the access of international journalists. But the vast majority of reports out of Syria indicate that al-Assad's forces are slaughtering civilians in opposition hotbeds in an attempt to wipe out dissidents seeking his ouster.

China has evacuated most people working for its projects in Syria, China's state-run Xinhua news agency reported. Air France flights between Paris and Damascus have been suspended because of the violence, the company said Wednesday. The U.N. Security Council is circulating another proposed resolution to end the violence and pursue "immediate humanitarian access."

Preliminary discussion of the resolution has begun among the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Morocco, said Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Western diplomats said the goal is to bring Russia and China into the fold by creating a less harsh version of the last draft resolution -- which the two countries vetoed -- that would emphasize the humanitarian situation. They said they want the Russians and Chinese to join the call for a "permissive environment" for humanitarian access.

Russia, meanwhile, said Wednesday that humanitarian issues must be urgently resolved, Russian state-run news agency RIA Novosti said.

Russian diplomat Mikhail Bogdanov told the Syrian ambassador to Russia, Riyad Haddad, that the country backed the missions of Amos and former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the special joint envoy to Syria for the United Nations and the Arab League.

Russia is urging all parties to stop the violence and "create conditions for the real and inclusive political dialogue between Syrians without outside interference." Haddad "confirmed the readiness of the Syrian government for a constructive dialogue with the opposition," the news outlet said.

Annan began his visit to the region Wednesday in Cairo, where he was to meet with the league's secretary-general, Nabil Elaraby.

"He will then proceed to Damascus on Saturday to seek an urgent end to all violence and human rights violations and to initiate efforts to promote a peaceful solution," the United Nations said. 'He is also due to visit other countries in the region."

The Syrian government says that more than 2,000 security personnel have been killed. The United Nations has said at least 7,500 people have died in the crackdown, while opposition activists put the toll at more than 9,000


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