By ZEINA KARAM, Associated Press
BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian forces launched a fresh assault on Homs on Saturday as the Red Cross pressed forward with efforts to deliver badly needed aid to thousands of people stranded in a besieged neighborhood despite warnings from regime troops of land mines and booby traps.
Two days after they fought their way into the rebel stronghold of Baba Amr, government forces shelled several other neighborhoods of the city, the country's third largest with about 1 million people. They included districts where many of Baba Amr's residents had fled, activists said.
The Syrian regime has said it was fighting "armed gangs" in Baba Amr, which has become a symbol of the nearly year-old uprising against President Bashar Assad's authoritarian rule. The revolt has killed more than 7,500 people, according to the U.N.
The Local Coordination Committees activist network said mortars slammed into the districts of Khaldiyeh, Bab Sbaa and Khader.
Abu Hassan al-Homsi, a doctor at a makeshift clinic in Khaldiyeh, said he treated a dozen people who were wounded, most lightly.
"This has become routine, the mortars start falling early in the morning," he said. Several homes were damaged from the morning shelling.
Another Khaldiyeh resident who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals said the district has been without water and heating fuel for a week amid freezing temperatures and snow.
"We are collecting rain and snow water, and cutting trees to burn to warm ourselves," he said.
Conditions in Baba Amr are believed to be dire, with extended power outages, shortages of food and water, and lack of medical care. Syrian government forces took control of the neighborhood Thursday after rebels fled the district under constant bombardment that activists said killed hundreds of people since early February.
The Red Cross said the regime blocked its entry to Baba Amr on Friday, one day after the group received government permission to enter with a convoy of seven trucks carrying 15 tons of humanitarian aid including food, medical supplies and blankets.
"We are still in negotiations to enter Baba Amr," ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan said Saturday in Geneva.
The Syrians said they were not letting the Red Cross into Baba Amr because of safety concerns, including land mines, Hassan said, adding the organization had not been able to verify the danger. The government has not offered an official explanation.
There was no immediate word on what was going on in Baba Amr on Saturday, a day after activists accused regime forces of execution-style killings and a scorched-earth campaign of burning homes, raising fears of revenge attacks in a country on the verge of civil war.
Telephone and Internet lines were still down and activists in nearby areas said they had no information from inside.
In the northern Idlib province, cemetery workers were burying people in parks because the graveyards were targets for regime forces, residents said.
"They (the Syrian army) don't let us pass the check point to get to the cemetery over there, they don't let us dig graves over there. So we have to dig graves in the park," Idlib cemetery worker Issam Abbas told The Associated Press.
On Saturday, children were still playing in the park as fresh graves were dug for three Free Syrian Army fighters reportedly killed on Friday night trying to plant anti-tank mines to destroy government vehicles.
Standing knee-deep in one of the graves, worker Abdel Mohcen said working in the city cemetery had become too dangerous.
"Last time I was there I had four bullets fired at me," he said.
Later in the day, a large funeral procession for the fighters made its way to the park graveyard.
In Damascus, Red Crescent officials handed over to embassy officials the bodies of two foreign journalists who were killed in shelling while trapped inside Baba Amr.
French Ambassador Eric Chevallier received the body of French photographer Remi Ochlik, and a Polish diplomat received the remains of American Marie Colvin. U.S. interests in Syria are represented by Poland.
Both journalists had sneaked into Syria illegally to try to get an eyewitness view of the government crackdown in the country. They died on Feb. 22 in shelling that also wounded Edith Bouvier of the daily Le Figaro and British photographer Paul Conroy.