Syrian troops advance in Homs as aid calls mount

Syrian troops advance in Homs as aid calls mount

Syrian troops advance in Homs as aid calls mount

Smoke rises from a building in Homs where final stages of clashes between military forces and rebels take place. REUTERS photo

Syrian ground forces were mopping up the last pockets of resistance in the central city of Homs, a security source said yesterday as China urged world powers to provide humanitarian assistance to Syria.

But a human rights watchdog and an activist in the central city denied that troops had moved into the rebel neighborhood of Bab Amr, which has been pounded by regime shelling for 26 straight days, insisting that clashes were continuing on the outskirts. However, the announcement by a Syrian official of the new troop advance indicated a ground assault was beginning to recapture Bab Amr, home to about 100,000 people.

“The army has started combing the area building by building and house by house. Now the troops are searching every basement and tunnel for arms and terrorists,” an anonymous source said. “Only a few pockets” of resistance remained, the source added.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that rebel forces were “preventing an attempt to storm” the neighborhood. The Britain-based watchdog group said gunfire could be heard in several districts of the city. Access to Homs has now been completely sealed off, according to rebel commanders, who said the regular army had also blown up an underground aqueduct that had been the last viable route for smuggling in desperately needed supplies.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi that international humanitarian aid should be allowed into Syria, according to Chinese state media. “The international community should create favorable conditions in this regard and provide humanitarian aid to Syria,” state news agency Xinhua quoted Yang as saying. A day before, Russia had urged Syria to cooperate with the Red Cross to allow the relief agency to deliver aid. “It is important that the Syrian government cooperates with the International Committee of the Red Cross,” said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov.

“The pressing task now is for all parties involved in the conflicts in Syria to immediately stop all violent acts across the board, launch inclusive political dialogues as soon as possible and discuss reform plans,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei quoted Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi as saying in calls this week with the head of the Arab League and the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Algeria. The ministry’s account did not say whether China will back a new U.N. Security Council resolution proposed by Western powers that calls for providing aid to Syria.

Compiled from AFP and AP stories by the Daily News staff.