Syria Fighting Spreads as Red Cross Aids Displaced People

Syria Army Hits Rebels in South, Red Cross Aids Homs Refugee
Free Syrian Army fighters chant anti-government slogans as they hold up their weapons near a building hit by a Syrian Army tank in Idlib. Photographer: Rodrigo Abd/AP

Syrian troops clashed with army defectors in the southern Daraa region as the Red Cross handed out aid to refugees from Baba Amr in the center of the country, seized by the army last week.

At least two people died today in Daraa, Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said by telephone from London. Tanks and military vehicles massed outside Yabroud, a Damascus suburb, he said. An explosion struck an oil pipeline, with opposition groups and the government blaming each other for the blast.

Syria’s army gained control of the Baba Amr district of Homs after a monthlong artillery siege, prompting renewed diplomacy to end a conflict that has claimed more than 7,500 lives, according to the United Nations. Two UN envoys are due to travel to Damascus this week to help end the violence. President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces are clearing the neighborhood of “terrorist elements,” according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency.

Kofi Annan, the joint special envoy of the UN and the Arab League, will visit Syria March 10, after a stopover in Cairo to meet with the league’s secretary-general, the organizations said in an e-mailed statement from Geneva today.

“The purpose of his first visit is to seek an urgent end to all violence and human-rights violations, and to initiate the effort to promote a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis,” according to the statement.

‘Unhindered Access’

Annan will follow the UN’s emergency relief coordinator Valerie Amos, whose March 7-9 trip comes about a week after Assad’s government denied her earlier travel requests.

“My aim is to urge all parties to allow unhindered access for humanitarian relief workers so that they can evacuate the wounded and deliver essential supplies,” Amos said in an e-mailed statement.

The International Committee of the Red Cross established a distribution center in Abel, about 3 kilometers (2 miles) away, and has given food and medical help to hundreds of people who fled Baba Amr, the organization’s Damascus representative, Saleh Dabbakeh, said today by telephone.

“Now it’s calmer in Homs so, hopefully we’ll be able to do more,” Dabbakeh said. Humanitarian assistance didn’t stop as the violence escalated, he said. The Syrian government hasn’t allowed the Red Cross into Baba Amr, “citing security reasons,” he said.

Pipeline Attacks

The blast that hit the pipeline in al-Quriye in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor was the latest in at least seven attacks on pipelines and refineries this year. The opposition Shaam News Facebook page blamed it on government forces, while SANA said it was carried out by “terrorist groups.”

Syrian crude production dropped to about 260,000 barrels a day, Oil Minister Sufian Alao said on Dec. 24. Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Total SA and other European companies have ceased operations in the country because of sanctions, Alao said.

Attacks in Homs, Hama, Damascus, Daraa and Aleppo killed 62 civilians yesterday, the Local Coordination Committees of Syria said on its website. Assad’s forces killed at least four people today and “entirely cut off” communications in the Damascus suburb of Yabroud, the group said today.

Chinese Mission

Russia and China, which both vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on Feb. 4 calling on Assad to step down, are increasing pressure on Syria’s government to end the crackdown.

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister who urged Assad today to stop the bloodshed, will meet with Arab League counterparts in Cairo on March 10, Interfax reported.

China, which called for an immediate cease-fire yesterday, will send its former ambassador to Syria, Li Huaqing, to Damascus for a two-day visit starting tomorrow, the Associated Press reported, citing the Foreign Ministry.

The U.S. and its European and Arab allies, which backed the UN resolution, are preparing to hold a second meeting of the group they call “Friends of Syria.” It may take place in Turkey in late March, Istanbul-based Sabah newspaper reported.

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