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Aid Assessment Team To Visit Besieged Syrian Cities

Smoke rises from the suburb of Erbeen in Damascus during fighting earlier this year. Activists say more than 8,000 Syrians have been killed in the government's crackdown against dissent.
The United Nations’ aid chief says a joint team from the UN, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Syrian government will begin visiting besieged Syrian cities this weekend to assess the humanitarian situation.

Valerie Amos said in a statement on March 15 that the mission would be led by the Syrian government and that the team would go to Homs, Hama, Tartous, Latakia, Aleppo, Deraa, suburbs of Damascus and other towns.

Amos said it is "increasingly vital that humanitarian organizations have unhindered access to identify urgent needs and provide emergency care and basic supplies."

Last week, during a visit to Syria, Amos visited Homs -- including the heavily shelled district of Baba Amr, which she said had been devastated after a month-long siege.

Annan To Report To UN

Also on March 15, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the Syrian government and opposition to cooperate with UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan in a bid to end the violence, saying that the "status quo in Syria is indefensible."

Annan visited Syria last week to deliver a proposed peace plan to Assad, and was due to brief the UN Security Council on March 16 about his mission.

The proposed peace plan includes demands for an immediate ceasefire by government troops and opposition fighters, access for humanitarian aid, and the start of a political dialogue.

The latest developments come after 200 aid and rights groups called on Russia and China to support attempts by the UN to end the violence in Syria.

First Anniversary Of Unrest

Their appeal marked one year since the first protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began.

The coalition of aid and rights groups say more than 8,000 Syrians have been killed in the government's crackdown against dissent while the world has "stood by."

The Syrian government blames "armed terrorist groups" for the unrest and deaths.

China and Russia, a longtime Syrian regime ally and arms supplier, have blocked several Western and Arab League efforts to pass a UN Security Council resolution condemning violence by Assad's regime.

Meanwhile, Turkey says about 1,000 refugees have crossed into Turkey from Syria since March 14, bringing the total of registered Syrian refugees in the country to some 14,000.

The announcement on the joint aid assessment missions came as Syrian government troops were reportedly continuing artillery barrages on opposition strongholds in the northern province of Idlib.

'A Revolution In Every Sense Of The Word'

Mass protests against the regime were reported in the southern province of Deraa.

In the city of Homs, opposition activist Abu Omar al-Homsi told journalists that the Syrian people will continue to fight for their freedom.

"'It is a revolution in every sense of the word, a revolution against oppression and tyranny and corruption," he said. "As activists, all we ask for from the Syrian people is to remain steadfast and to continue to go out onto the streets and to call for freedom and overthrowing this tyrant. We ask for nothing more.''

Thousands of supporters of the Syrian regime also took to the streets on March 15 in Damascus, Aleppo, Latakia, and other cities to denounce what they called a "year-old conspiracy" against Assad.

In another sign of the regime's increasing isolation, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia decided to close their embassies in Damascus and pull out their diplomats and staff.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP