REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- For a fourth day in a row, the International Committee of the Red Cross was blocked Monday from entering the battered Baba Amr neighborhood in the Syrian city of Homs.
The regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad again cited security concerns for keeping aid workers out of the area, said Saleh Dabbakeh, Damascus-based spokesman for the Red Cross. Syrian troops retook Baba Amr late last week after rebels of the Free Syrian Army pulled out.
The Red Cross was able to get into the adjacent neighborhood of Inshaat, where many Baba Amr residents fled during a month of shelling, Dabbakeh said, distributing food and non-food items.
"Everybody has been exhausted by the economic situation in the country that they can barely get away with buying things," he said. "They are living off their life savings.”
The Red Cross hopes to get into Baba Amr within the next day or two. "How long is it going to take before they finish with the mopping up operations and cleaning operations and de-mining and taking care of explosives?" Dabbakeh said. "It can’t take forever.”
Opposition activists have reported that the Syrian army is committing brutal reprisal killings in Baba Amr against residents still there, but the statements could not be independently verified.
Avaaz, a New York-based activist group, said one witness from a neighboring area saw black smoke rising from Baba Amr. "We believe that the regime is burning evidence of war crimes in the neighborhood of Baba Amr," said the resident, identified as Abu Rabea.
Another resident said that those living in isolated Baba Amr have refused to leave their homes, making it difficult to get reliable information.
-- Times staff
Photo: Syrian workers clean a street in the Baba Amr district of Homs, Syria, on Sunday, in this picture distributed by the official Syrian Arab News Agency. Credit: European Pressphoto Agency / Syrian Arab News Agency