The UN Security Council has demanded "immediate" humanitarian access to besieged cities in Syria after government forces took hold of the Baba Amr district of Homs.
United Nations Security Council members issued a joint statement on Thursday saying they "deplore the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation" after intense bombardment forced rebel troops to withdraw from the besieged Homs district of Baba Amr.
Notably, Russia and China joined other council members calling for Syria "to allow immediate, full and unimpeded access of humanitarian personnel to all populations in need of assistance, in accordance with international law and guiding principles of humanitarian assistance."
The 15-nation body also expressed disappointment that Damascus had failed to allow UN humanitarian aid chief Valerie Amos into the country. It demanded that Amos be granted "unhindered access."
It was the first statement on Syria issued by the Council since August last year. Permanent members Russia and China have twice vetoed Security Council resolutions condemning Damascus and calling for an end to the violence.
Syrian troops took control of the besieged Homs district of Baba Amr on Thursday, government officials confirmed, following the withdrawal of rebel forces. At least 17 civilians were killed in the clashes, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
"The Syrian army controls all of Baba Amr. The last pockets of resistance have fallen," a security official in Damascus told news agency AFP, in the wake of an increasingly intense 26-day military assault on the former opposition stronghold.
Rebels from the Free Syrian Army said they had made a "tactical retreat" in order to protect an estimated 4,000 civilians who had insisted on staying in their homes. In a statement the rebels 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."
"We warn the regime against any retaliation against civilians and we hold it fully responsible for their safety," the statement added.
Aid access to Homs
The Syrian regime conceded on Thursday, however, to allowing the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to enter Baba Amr.
"The Syrian Red Crescent and ICRC have received a green light from the authorities to go to Baba Amr tomorrow, Friday, in order to bring in much needed assistance including food and medical aid and to carry out evacuation operations," ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan told Reuters.
Syrian authorities also gave the ICRC "positive indications" on the agency's request for a daily, two-hour ceasefire to deliver life-saving relief supplies to civilians, he said.
The Baba Amr district had become a symbol of resistance in the almost year-long revolt against President Bashar al-Assad. Rebels had held the area for several months until regime forces launched a deadly attack in early February, which activists say has killed hundreds of people.
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.
ccp/pfd (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)