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Red Cross seeks daily pause in Syria fighting


This news story was published on February 22, 2012.
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By Patrick J. McDonnell and Rima Marrouch, Los Angeles Times –

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Opposition activists reported scores of people killed Tuesday across Syria, including many in a new round of government shelling of the besieged city of Homs, as the International Committee of the Red Cross called for a “humanitarian pause” in order to aid Syria’s expanding ranks of victims.

Amid fear that Syria could be headed toward civil war, the Red Cross proposed that both sides in the conflict respect daily, two-hour cease-fires to allow time to deliver aid and evacuate the wounded and the sick.

“The current situation requires an immediate decision to implement a humanitarian pause in the fighting,” Jakob Kellenberger, president of the Red Cross, said in a statement. “In Homs and in other affected areas, entire families have been stuck for days in their homes, unable to step outside to get bread, other food or water, or to obtain medical care.”

Whether the Red Cross proposal had any chance of being enacted in Syria remained a question mark. Violence has broken out across the country, both in cities and in isolated towns and villages where access is limited. Guerrilla groups fighting the government have no central leadership.

The Syrian government has rejected any attempt to “internationalize” the almost yearlong conflict. Syrian authorities describe the violence as a foreign plot meant to destabilize the nation and topple President Bashar Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for more than 40 years.

On Tuesday, Russia — which has rejected calls for Assad to step down — proposed that a special United Nations envoy go to Syria to help with security and humanitarian issues. The Kremlin’s steadfast support for Assad has resulted in fierce criticism of Moscow in much of the Arab world.

People reached in Homs on Tuesday said government shelling was pulverizing the opposition stronghold of Bab Amr, where thousands of civilians and rebel fighters are anticipating in a government ground attack to retake the district.

“Today is the worst day of shelling,” said an opposition activist contacted in Homs via the Skype communications system. “People are dying either because of the fire or because of the hunger. The situation is very dramatic.”

Activists say pro-rebel neighborhoods in Homs are lacking food, water, electricity and medical care.

The government says it is fighting “terrorists” in Syria and accused the opposition of fabricating attacks and inflating casualty figures.

On Tuesday, the official Syrian Arab News Agency reported that “food and services are available in Homs,” denouncing “lies” by “provocative” television channels.

Among those reported killed Tuesday, opposition activists said, was a well-known video activist, Rami Ahmad Sayed, known as “syriapioneer” on many videos posted on YouTube documenting the plight of Bab Amr. Opposition activists said he was hit Tuesday by shrapnel.

A video of his body lying in the hospital was uploaded Tuesday by his brother, according to a family friend.

The Local Coordination Committees, an opposition coalition, said at least 106 people were killed Tuesday in Syria, including 45 in Homs and 55 in the troubled northwest province of Idlib. The numbers could not be independently verified as media access to Syria is limited.

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