BEIRUT — The U.N. humanitarian chief got the first look inside the shattered district of Baba Amr on Wednesday but found most people already had fled the rebellious neighborhood in Homs following a devastating military siege.
Activists have accused the government of sealing off Baba Amr for nearly a week while it tried to cover up evidence of atrocities over the past month.
The Geneva-based U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos arrived in Damascus earlier in the day, then headed straight to the Baba Amr, which the military wrested from rebel control last Thursday after a battle that lasted nearly four weeks. Homs is one of the strongholds of Syria’s year-old uprising to oust authoritarian President Bashar Assad.
“The Syrian Arab Red Crescent stayed about 45 minutes inside the neighborhood,” ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan said in Geneva. “Volunteers say that most inhabitants have left Baba Amr to areas that have already been visited last week by the Red Crescent and the ICRC.”
The siege of Baba Arm outraged the international community, and the U.S. said Assad was acting like a war criminal. One powerful U.S. senator, John McCain, is advocating U.S. airstrikes to end Assad’s crackdown on the opposition. But Defense Secretary Leon Panetta pushed back against the demands.
“What doesn’t make sense is to take unilateral action right now,” Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee about advising President Barack Obama to dispatch U.S. forces. “I’ve got to make very sure we know what the mission is … achieving that mission at what price.”
The government has kept Baba Amr sealed off over the past six days, saying it was too dangerous for humanitarian workers to enter. But activists say the government has been engaged in a “mopping-up” operation to hide their activities.
“They haven’t let anyone in for a week, and now they are going to let them in?” Homs activists Tarek Badrakhan told The Associated Press. “Today it’s simple: They finished their crimes and hid all the proof. Now they think they can show that everything is normal.”
Amos has said the aim of her visit is “to urge all sides to allow unhindered access for humanitarian relief workers so they can evacuate the wounded and deliver essential supplies.”
In Washington, Senator McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the estimated 7,500 dead in the Syrian uprising calls for U.S. leadership that a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, displayed during the Bosnian war in the 1990s and that Obama eventually showed on Libya last year.
The Pentagon chief later added that the United States is not holding back and is leading in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and the war on terrorism.View Entire Story
'Your papers, please' must never be heard in America
Independent voices from the TWT Communities
Eat & drink your way to better health, a better body and a better planet.
Let’s talk about everything, especially the absurdity of it all
Things to do, places to go, new spots to enjoy with friends and family from Norfolk to Washington, D.C., to Delaware and all points inbetween.
Benghazi: The anatomy of a scandal
Vietnam Memorial adds four names
Cinco de Mayo on the Mall