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Red Crescent Enters Syria's Devastated Homs District


Destroyed vehicles and buildings are seen after shelling by Syrian military forces in the Inshaat neighborhood of the restive city of Homs on March 5.
UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos and a convoy from the Syrian Red Crescent have been allowed into the Baba Amr district of the opposition stronghold of Homs in central Syria for a short visit.

ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan, speaking in Geneva, said Amos and the Red Crescent team spent about 45 minutes in Baba Amr on March 7, but found that most residents had fled the neighborhood.

Amos, who was denied entry to Syria last week, was beginning a three-day mission to try to persuade Syrian authorities to grant access for aid teams into the area.

Spokeswoman Amanda Pitt told the French news agency AFP that Amos said after the visit that Homs, which had been subjected to artillery barrages for weeks, had been "completely devastated" and that she heard gunfire in the city.

Amos was believed to have returned to the capital, Damascus, on March 7.

State news agency SANA quoted Foreign Minister Walid Muallim as telling Amos in Damascus earlier on March 7 that the government would cooperate with her team and was trying to help civilians.

Muallim blamed international sanctions on President Bashar al-Assad's regime for the worsening humanitarian situation in the country.

Activists say hundreds of people have been killed in the shelling of Baba Amr.

The UNHCR, the UN's refugee agency, has said that more than 1,500 people from in and around Homs have crossed the border into Lebanon to escape the violence.

The UN says more than 7,500 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since Syrian security forces began their crackdown on opponents of President Bashar al-Assad's government one year ago.

Assad Stands Firm

The developments come as Assad has shown no indication that he is prepared to relent in his yearlong military crackdown on the uprising.

State-run news agency SANA quoted the Syrian leader as saying on March 6 that he would continue to confront what he described as "foreign-backed terrorism."

Syrian activists said security forces killed three people who were protesting against the regime in the town of Daraa, near the border with Jordan:

Also, reports from Syrian activists said troops and tanks were making their way to the northern province of Idlib.

Addressing the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta pushed back against demands for U.S. military involvement in Syria.

"There is every possibility of a civil war and a direct, outside intervention in these conditions not only would not prevent that, but could make it worse," Panetta said.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking on March 7 in Washington, said the United States and its allies were stepping up efforts to aid the opposition, saying the Assad regime's human rights violations had reached "a new low."

"We think that Assad and his regime will not be able to survive," Clinton said. "So we do think it is appropriate to help the opposition, but where we are focused on is how we help them be more unified, communicate more clearly, have message to all their Syrian counterparts who are not yet convinced that it is in their interests for Assad to go."

In other developments, Spain announced that it had closed its embassy in Syria to protest brutalities carried out by the government. Madrid's decision follows similar moves by Britain, Canada, France, and the United States.

No International Agreement

Meanwhile, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council have discussed new efforts to press for a halt to the violence.

Russia and China have vetoed two previous Security Council resolutions on Syria, saying the drafts were unbalanced and only demanded that the government stop attacks.

A Russian Foreign Ministry statement on March 6 made it clear that Moscow’s position on Syria had not changed since the March 4 election, which saw Vladimir Putin return to the presidency.

On March 7, Putin noted that the possibility of Russia granting political asylum to Syria's Assad had not come under consideration. He was quoted as saying that "we are not even discussing this question."

Several countries have in recent weeks suggested the possibility of granting Assad asylum as a way of ending the 12-month bloodshed.

Russia is a leading arms supplier to the Syrian regime and operates a naval base on the Syrian coast.

In a sign of China's growing concern over the situation, however, Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming has announced that China has decided to withdraw its workers from Syria because of the instability.

With AFP, AP, and Reuters reporting