Red Cross Restricted As Killing Continues In Syria

The Syrian government continued shelling the city of Homs overnight. The latest United Nations report estimates 7,500 people have been killed since unrest began nearly a year ago. The government has also continued to refuse entry to the International Committee of the Red Cross. NPR's Kelly McEvers reports.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The Syrian government has continued its shelling of the city of Homs overnight. The latest United Nations report estimates that seven and a half thousand people have been killed since the unrest began a year ago. The government has also continued to refuse entry to the International Committee of the Red Cross. It promised entry to the aid group after rebel forces withdrew this week from an area of Homs. NPR's Kelly McEvers reports.

KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: The Red Cross spent the night in Homs last night in hopes of entering the besieged neighborhood of Baba Amr. That's where residents and defected soldiers had taken up arms to defend the area from government security forces. Now, those armed rebels have withdrawn. Activists inside Homs say the civilians who remain face extremely dire conditions. And, they say, soldiers are now combing the neighborhood, rounding up all males over the age of 14 and summarily executing some. The activist reports could not be independently verified. The Syrian government maintains it's after terrorists and armed groups. Paul Conroy is one of a handful of Western journalists who managed to sneak into Homs and report on the government bombardment of Baba Amr. Two of these journalists were recently killed by a rocket many believe was targeting a makeshift media center. That's where Western journalists and Syrian citizen journalists use generators and satellite modems to report on the destruction. Conroy and the other Western journalists who survived the attack managed to escape from Syria in recent days. Speaking from the BBC from his bed in a London hospital, Conroy said the Syrian government's portrayal of its offensive on Baba Amr as a war is a lie.

PETER CONROY: There are no targets in Baba Amr. There are no military targets. It's pure and a systematic slaughter of the civilian population now. There's nothing of any strategic importance. The only reason them shells are going in is to eliminate the people and the buildings of Baba Amr. There's no war. It's a slaughterhouse.

MCEVERS: Conroy says now that most civilians and journalists have fled or been killed he fears the situation will only get worse.

CONROY: We left behind what I fear is going to be the next Rwanda, the next Srebrenica. It's systematic destruction. They're going to move on, and they're going to move into the countryside, the towns and there will be no witnesses. The regime now can move and do effectively what they like. And those women, children, old men, young people will just cease to exist. They will cease to exist. And in ten years we'll have an investigation and people will say how did this happen?

MCEVERS: Still, in the face of all the violence, Syrians around the country, including in Homs, went out to protest yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE PROTESTING)

MCEVERS: In the northern Syrian city of Rastan, this protest was hit by an explosion.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)

MCEVERS: Ten people died. Other protests were met with teargas and live ammunition. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the Syrian government is to be blamed for the escalating violence.

SECRETARY GENERAL BAN KI MOON: For the militarization of the Syrian opposition is not the answer. The international community must urgently find unity in pressing the Syrian authorities and all other parties to stop the violence.

MCEVERS: Speaking to the UN General Assembly yesterday, Ban called on the Syrian government to allow immediate access to aid organizations and begin a real dialogue toward ending the crisis. Former Secretary General Kofi Annan is headed to the region to try to make peace. Kelly McEvers, NPR News, Beirut.

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