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Syria: Humanitarian aid cannot enter Qusair until fighting over

This photo taken by mobile phone on June 2, 2013 shows Syrian army tanks making their way to the Dabaa military airfield, north of the Syrian city of Qusayr. Syrian regime troops repulsed a rebel assault on a village loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in central Homs province, killing at least 28 of the attackers, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. AFP PHOTO/STR

DAMASCUS: With reports of up to 1,500 wounded citizens trapped in Qusair, Syria insisted Sunday that the Red Cross would not be allowed access to the strategic town until fighting was over.

Also Sunday, a car bombing on the outskirts of Damascus killed at least nine members of the Syrian security forces, activists said.

As the battle for Qusair continues, international aid groups called over the weekend for the evacuation of civilians trapped in the town, where regime forces launched an assault two weeks ago.

But Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon by telephone Sunday that the Red Cross would not be allowed to enter until the assault is over.

“Syrian authorities will allow the Red Cross in cooperation with the Syrian Red Crescent access to the area immediately after the end of military operations,” SANA quoted him as saying.

Regime aircraft carried out Sunday a wave of air raids against the northern part of Qusair, in the province of Homs, and the outskirts of the strategic town, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“Warplanes carried out multiple raids against the northern part of the city and the area between Dabaa and Qusair,” it said, adding there were no immediate details on injuries or deaths.

The Observatory said the regime has continued to bolster its forces in Qusair, key to the regime and the rebels alike as it links Damascus to the coast, and is near the Lebanese border, providing a key rebel conduit for weapons and fighters.

Ban and international aid organizations expressed concern Saturday about civilians trapped in the town in central Homs province, and between 1,000-1,500 injured residents still in Qusair.

“We understand there may also be as many as 1,500 wounded people in urgent need of immediate evacuation for emergency medical treatment, and that the general situation in Qusair is desperate,” said a joint statement by U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos and U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay.

They were “extremely alarmed” by reports that civilian neighborhoods were under fire, they added.

“We urge the parties to agree to an immediate cease-fire to allow humanitarian agencies to evacuate the wounded and provide life-saving treatment and supplies.”

In Geneva over the weekend, the International Committee of the Red Cross also expressed alarm.

“Civilians and the wounded are at risk of paying an even heavier price as the fighting continues,” said Robert Mardini, head of Middle East operations.

He called for restraint on all sides, adding that the ICRC had already requested access to the town.

But Moallem voiced “surprise” at the concern over Qusair, SANA reported, “given that no one expressed this concern when terrorists took control of the city and the surrounding area.”

Security Council diplomats said Russia, which along with China has shielded Assad diplomatically at the United Nations, blocked a council declaration of alarm on Saturday over the 2-week-old siege of Qusair.

The draft statement urged forces loyal to Assad and rebels trying to oust him “to do their utmost to avoid civilian casualties and for the Syrian government to exercise its responsibility to protect civilians.”

It appealed to Assad’s government “to allow immediate, full and unimpeded access to impartial humanitarian actors, including U.N. agencies, to reach civilians trapped in Qusair.”

The opposition Syrian National Coalition said Friday that rebel reinforcements from around the country had reached the town and paid tribute to the fighters.

Late on Friday, influential Muslim preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi urged Sunnis to follow suit and join the uprising.

“Iran is pushing forward arms and men [to back the Syrian regime], so why do we stand idle?” he said at a rally.

Qaradawi, a controversial figure, has millions of supporters, mostly from the Muslim Brotherhood.

Sunday’s car bomb, which struck an area in the east of the capital, appeared to have been carried out by the extremist Nusra Front, which is allied with Al-Qaeda, according to the Observatory, although there was no immediate confirmation.

“At least nine regime forces were killed in the explosion of a car bomb near a police station in the Jubar Turn to page 10From page 1neighborhood,” Observatory director Rami Abdel-Rahman told AFP.Syrian state news agency SANA reported “10 citizens were wounded when a car driven by a terrorist exploded in Jubar,” but gave no information on deaths in the attack. It said five were seriously wounded.

Also Sunday, the Observatory said at least 28 rebels were killed on Saturday night in an attempt to seize control of an Alawite village in Homs province.

Rahman told AFP the rebels, who control Rastan and much of Houla, the towns on either side of the village of Kfarnan, launched an assault Saturday, while six soldiers were killed in a rebel assault on a checkpoint nearby.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 03, 2013, on page 1.

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