GENEVA, March 7 (Reuters) - An aid convoy from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent found that most residents had fled the devastated Homs district of Baba Amr after being allowed there on Wednesday, as the U.N. humanitarian chief held rare direct talks in the Syrian capital Damascus.
Valerie Amos, who was denied entry to Syria last week, arrived on a three-day mission to try to persuade authorities to grant unhindered access for aid workers to deliver life-saving assistance to civilians. She was on her way to Homs as well on Wednesday afternoon.
A Red Cross aid convoy has been unable to enter Baba Amr since arriving in Homs last Friday, a day after rebel fighters fled following nearly a month of shelling by Syrian forces.
But a team of Syrian Arab Red Crescent aid workers who entered Baba Amr on Wednesday for the first time in 10 days found that most residents had fled.
"The Syrian Arab Red Crescent stayed inside Baba Amr for about 45 minutes. They found that most inhabitants had left Baba Amr to areas that have been already visited by the ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent in the past week," ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan told Reuters in Geneva.
These other areas were in Homs and the nearby village of Abel where ICRC and Red Crescent workers distributed aid on Wednesday, the second time since Sunday, he said.
"She (Amos) just completed a meeting with the MFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and is now en route to Homs," Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said in Geneva.
The Syrian foreign ministry confirmed Amos had held talks with Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem but gave no details.
Syrian state news agency SANA said the minister had stressed that the country's leadership was doing its best to meet civilians' needs despite the burden of "unfair sanctions" imposed by some Arab and Western countries.
The ICRC is the only international agency allowed to deploy aid workers in Syria. They have been providing food and medical supplies since the conflict began nearly a year ago.
Red Crescent teams previously evacuated a total of 30 people needing medical attention from Baba Amr, some seriously wounded, on its two previous visits, according to the ICRC.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has voiced alarm at reports that government forces have executed, imprisoned and tortured people in Baba Amr.
OTHER AREAS NEED AID
Despite a green light received from the Syrian authorities nearly a week ago and their "daily assurances", ICRC officials have not been allowed into the neighbourhood.
"Meanwhile other areas are affected by unrest and other people need assistance," Hassan said on Wednesday.
Over the past few days, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent has also distributed aid provided by the ICRC to Hama, Idlib, Deraa, Rural Damascus and the eastern city of Raqqa, he said.
"The situation as we see it today is that unrest is still taking place mainly in Hama, Deraa, Rural Damascus, Homs and Idlib," Hassan said.
The civilian population is reeling from the economic impact of the fighting and their shrinking purchasing power, he said.
"We just finished distributions in the village of Abel for the second time. It was mainly food, blankets and baby milk," Hassan said.
He was referring to a village outside Homs city where some residents of Baba Amr have fled. Some 350 families, roughly 2,100 people, received supplies in the Red Crescent's first distribution there on Sunday, according to the ICRC spokesman.
Syrian tanks bombarded other opposition areas in Homs overnight, anti-Assad activists said, although an ICRC spokesman in Damascus said the city was quieter than before.
Profile on Amos: (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Maria Golovnina)
07/13/2012 1:00 PM EDT
Car Bomb In Damascus
Syrian policemen inspect the site of a car bomb explosion on Mazzeh highway in the capital Damascus on July 13, 2012. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/GettyImages)
07/13/2012 12:00 PM EDT
Susan Rice Condemns Killings
U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tweets:
@ AmbassadorRice :
#Syria regime turned artillery, tanks and helicopters on its own men & women. It unleashed knife-wielding shabiha gangs on its own children.
07/13/2012 11:58 AM EDT
Russia Condemns Massacre
Russia says international envoy Kofi Annan will visit Moscow on Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. Russia also called for an inquiry into an alleged massacre that took place in the village of Tramseh on Thursday. "We have no doubt that this wrongdoing serves the interests of those powers that are not seeking peace but persistently seek to sow the seeds of interconfessional and civilian conflict on Syrian soil," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters. Moscow did not apportion blame for the killings.
Read more on Reuters.com.
07/13/2012 11:55 AM EDT
Footage Of Massacre Aftermath (WARNING: VIDEO CONTAINS DISTURBING IMAGES)
The Associated Press obtained a video that purports to show the aftermath of an alleged massacre in the village of Tramseh, near Hama.
07/13/2012 9:34 AM EDT
How Do Syrian Fighters Get Their Arms?
How do Syria's fighters get their arms? An overview put together by Reuters explains that there are three gateways to the country -- Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.
Syrian rebels are smuggling small arms into Syria through a network of land and sea routes involving cargo ships and trucks moving through Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, maritime intelligence and Free Syrian Army (FSA) officers say.
Western and regional powers deny any suggestion they are involved in gun running. Their interest in the sensitive border region lies rather in screening to ensure powerful weapons such as surface to air missiles do not find their way to Islamist or other militants.
Read the full report here.
07/13/2012 9:10 AM EDT
Activists Report New Massacre (WARNING: GRAPHIC PHOTOS)
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a victim wounded by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. The accounts, some of which claim more than 200 people were killed in the violence Thursday, could not be independently confirmed, but would mark the latest in a string of brutal offensives by Syrian forces attempting to crush the rebellion. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a man mourning a victim killed by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
07/12/2012 6:50 PM EDT
Hama Revolutionary Council: More Than 220 Killed
According to the Hama Revolutionary Council, a Syrian opposition group, more than 220 people have been killed in a new alleged massacre in Taramseh. Earlier reports said more than 100 people were killed. "More than 220 people fell today in Taramseh," the Council said in a statement. "They died from bombardment by tanks and helicopters, artillery shelling and summary executions."
Fadi Sameh, an opposition activist from Taramseh, told Reuters he had left the town before the reported massacre but was in touch with residents. "It appears that Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Taramseh after its rebel defenders pulled out, and started killing the people. Whole houses have been destroyed and burned from the shelling," Sameh claimed.
Read more on Reuters.com.
07/12/2012 6:17 PM EDT
Syrian State TV: 'Large Numbers Of Terrorists Killed'
Syrian activist Rami Jarrah tweets that Syrian State TV has confirmed deaths in Tremseh. "Terrorists" is often the term used by the Syrian regime for opposition forces.
@ AlexanderPageSY :
Syrian State TV: clashes between security apparatus & terrorists in #Tremseh of #Hama leaves large numbers of terrorists killed #Syria
07/12/2012 5:36 PM EDT
Update: Death Toll In New Massacre Reportedly More Than 200
@ Reuters :
UPDATE: DEATH TOLL IN SYRIAN FORCES' ATTACK ON VILLAGE IN SYRIA'S HAMA REGION IS MORE THAN 200, MOSTLY CIVILIANS - OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS