Red Cross: Syrian Authorities Blocking Access to Needy in Homs

A Free Syrian Army fighter takes cover behind sandbags inside a room in a house in Deir al-Zor July 23, 2013. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

A Free Syrian Army fighter takes cover behind sandbags inside a room in a house in Deir al-Zor July 23, 2013. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

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GENEVA (Reuters) – Syrian authorities are blocking access to the old city of Homs, where trapped civilians are in dire need of food and medical supplies, the Red Cross said on Wednesday, warning of possible “tragic” consequences.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) revealed last Friday that it was negotiating a humanitarian pause to be able to enter Homs, where President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have been conducting a heavy offensive against rebels, with air and artillery strikes.

“We have been trying, for close to 20 days now, to bring medical supplies and other aid to the old city of Homs,” Magne Barth, head of the ICRC delegation in Syria, said in a statement issued in Geneva.

“Despite lengthy negotiations with both sides, and three trips back and forth between Damascus and Homs, we have still not received the go-ahead from the Syrian authorities,” he said.

Homs, in central Syria, is the epicenter of the armed insurgency that grew from popular street protests against more than four decades of Assad family rule. Some 2,000 people are now believed to be trapped there, aid agencies say.

Reaching tens of thousands of people in areas encircled by government forces or armed opposition groups remains one of the toughest challenges the ICRC faces in Syria, the agency said.

Under international humanitarian law, warring parties are obliged to allow rapid safe passage of humanitarian relief for civilians.

“They must also allow civilians in areas besieged by fighting to leave for safer areas, should they wish to do so. Regrettably, these obligations are not always fulfilled,” the agency said.