Syria Crisis: Homs Evacuation Fails Again, Red Cross Says

06/28/2012 11:39 am ET | Updated Aug 28, 2012

(Adds details, background)

GENEVA, June 28 (Reuters) - Efforts to evacuate civilians and wounded from the battered Syrian city of Homs failed again when a rescue team could not enter affected areas, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Thursday.

Beatrice Megevand-Roggo, head of ICRC operations for the Near and Middle East, said in a statement that there had been an agreement from Syrian authorities and the opposition for the ICRC team to carry out an evacuation on Wednesday.

"On the spot, however, agreed-upon conditions were not met and the staff were unable to proceed," she said.

ICRC spokesman Bijan Farnoudi in Geneva declined to provide specifics or apportion blame for the latest setback after the two sides agreed in principle to a humanitarian truce.

It was the second time in a week that the ICRC was forced to turn back to Damascus. On June 21, its joint team with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent heard shooting as it tried to enter the old city where the agency says hundreds of civilians are trapped by fighting.

"The ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent are virtually the only humanitarian organisations working in the hardest-hit areas in the country, and safe and unhindered access is thus essential to their work. ICRC and Syrian Arab Red Crescent teams take considerable risks performing their tasks," the agency said in Thursday's statement.

An official at the Syrian foreign ministry, in a report carried by the state news agency SANA, blamed "armed terrorist groups" - the government's term for opposition fighters - for preventing the teams from being able to carry out the operation.

This was "without any justification at all but the insistence of these groups to continue the practice of murder and crime against these innocent citizens," it quoted the Syrian foreign ministry official as saying.

There was no immediate comment by rebel groups in the flashpoint city. (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Oliver Holmes in Beirut; Editing by Michael Roddy)