News24

Homs shelled as Red Cross awaits truce

2012-06-21 13:01

Beirut - The Syrian army was shelling central districts of Homs on Thursday, residents said, after rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad agreed to a temporary truce to allow aid access to the sick and wounded.

Teams from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and its partner the Syrian Red Crescent were on standby. More than 10 days of heavy fighting has left hundreds of civilians stuck in the old city of Homs, unable to leave the battlefield, the ICRC said on Wednesday.

Waleed Faris, a resident of one of the neighbourhoods the ICRC was trying to enter, said shelling was heaviest at dawn on Thursday but there were signs the violence may be subsiding.

"Early this morning there was heavy shelling. Now I can hear one or two mortars fall every half an hour. It is quiet today compared to the past few days," he said, adding that two people had died in his neighbourhood of Khalidiya on Thursday.

A live video feed posted on the internet by activists showed smoke rising from the city and the sound of persistent gunfire could be heard. It was difficult to verify to the footage because of the restrictions imposed on foreign journalists.

At centre of revolt

Rabab al-Rifai, a spokesperson for the ICRC in Damascus, said a small ICRC team left the capital on Wednesday for Homs and joined tens of Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers in the city.

"We got the OK from the authorities and opposition groups also gave us assurances that they would respect the pause [in fighting]," she said by telephone.

"But that is one thing, and practical details on the spot - contacts, verification and making sure our teams can enter safely without hindrance - is important."

Homs has been at the centre of the 15-month revolt against Assad and became the focus of world concern in February and March, when opposition-held neighbourhoods endured weeks of government bombardments and sniper fire in which hundreds of people were killed.

A Homs resident said a similar evacuation agreement was reached a few days ago but collapsed when shots were fired by Assad's forces. The government said on Tuesday it was trying to evacuate civilians and blamed rebel fighters for obstructing efforts to get people out safely.