The Red Cross and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent were blocked from entering the Baba Amr district in the opposition hotbed city of Homs on Friday. Homs is now said to be under control of pro-government security forces.
International aid groups were unable to enter the battered neighborhood of Baba Amr on Friday, despite originally receiving a green light from the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
"The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent Society (SARC) were not allowed to enter the Baba Amr district of Homs today," ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger said in a release issued in Geneva.
"It is unacceptable that people who have been in need of emergency assistance for weeks have still not received any help," Kellenberger said. "We are staying in Homs tonight in the hope of entering Baba Amr in the very near future. In addition, many families have fled Baba Amr, and we will help them as soon as we possibly can."
Opposition groups ordered a "tactical withdrawal" from Baba Amr on Thursday after the area was overrun by government troops. The neighborhood had suffered a month-long bombardment by security forces.
At least 17 civilians were killed in the immediate clashes leading to the rebel pullout, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. In a statement the rebel Syrian National Council (SNC) said the decision was based on "worsening humanitarian conditions, lack of food and medicine and water, electricity and communication cuts as well as shortages in weapons."
The SNC has warned of a "massacre" in Baba Amr following the withdrawal of rebel troops. The council said some 4,000 civilians had decided to remain in their homes as government troops entered the district.
The Baba Amr district has become a symbol of resistance in the almost year-long revolt against President Bashar al-Assad. Casualty figures are almost impossible to independently confirm due to a government ban on most Western journalists from reporting in Syria. Many of the wounded have been unable to reach doctors and received only rudimentary treatment in makeshift clinics.
Meanwhile, the European Union vowed during its summit on Friday to hold accountable those responsible for the crackdown in Syria and said it would prepare new sanctions against Damascus.
"We will make sure, as we did in Serbia, that there is a day of reckoning for those who are responsible," said British Prime Minister David Cameron, referencing the prosecution of war criminals in The Hague after the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced that Paris would close its embassy in Damascus, following similar actions by the US and the UK.
"Homs risks being wiped off the map," President Sarkozy said. "It's absolutely unacceptable."
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the violence in Syria "atrocious," demanding that President Assad's regime give UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos permission to enter the country.
"The Syrian authorities must open, without any preconditions, to humanitarian communities," Ban told reporters. "Why are they afraid of receiving the head of the U.N. humanitarian department?"
Ban's comments came after the UN Security Council on Thursday condemned the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Baba Amr. Russia and China, who twice vetoed resolutions condemning Damascus, joined other council members in calling for humanitarian organizations to be granted access to those in need of assistance in Syria.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Friday strongly urged Western nations to stop backing the Syrian opposition, which he said was discouraging dialogue between the rebels and the Assad government.
slk, dfm/pfd (AFP, AP, Reuters)