MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
And I'm Audie Cornish.
And we begin this hour in Syria. The international chorus of condemnation grew louder today as diplomats from around the world met in Tunis to discuss the Syrian government's attacks on its own people. We'll hear more about that meeting shortly. But first, a break in the shelling of Baba Amr, that's the embattled district in the city of Homs that has been besieged by government forces for several weeks now.
BLOCK: The ceasefire came today, long enough to allow ambulances from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent into Baba Amr to evacuate at least seven injured Syrians. No word yet if two wounded Western journalists were also evacuated.
I spoke earlier today with Saleh Dabbakeh. He's a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross based in Damascus.
SALEH DABBAKEH: We have almost a dozen ambulances waiting and if we can evacuate - whether we evacuate, we will able to do it, including anybody. It depends on how much urgent they need to be evacuated.
BLOCK: So you would need to be doing some sort of triage on the ground to figure out the most urgent cases.
DABBAKEH: We have people on the ground who are specialists, who are doctors who can assess the situation of people, and knowing exactly who needs more assistance and, you know, where intervention could be saving lives.
BLOCK: It sounds like what you're saying is that the priority will be the people who are in need of urgent medical care. We're not talking about a wholesale evacuation of all of the civilians in this neighborhood at Homs.
DABBAKEH: No, no. We are talking about evacuating people who needs urgent help, particularly medical assistance.
BLOCK: Yes. I would presume that for those evacuations to happen safely, you would need to have a ceasefire agreed to on the ground for those ambulances to be able to leave.
DABBAKEH: We have been talking about this for about a week. There has been a positive response today, and there has been some kind of an agreement, and that's how we ended up in Baba Amr. You cannot be there if there are no agreements by everybody.
BLOCK: Yes. Mr. Dabbakeh, we're hearing reports from some activists inside Syria who say that the journalists in this neighborhood in Homs are refusing to leave. They're worried that they'll be handed over to the Syrian government. Can you respond to that?
DABBAKEH: Well, what I can tell you is that throughout our negotiation we made very clear that if we are allowed to go ahead to these neighborhoods, we will evacuate anybody who needs urgent assistance regardless of who he is, his country, her country or whatever. Do they get arrested, don't they get arrested, I cannot say anything on that because it's a political thing, and I can only talk about the humanitarian side of the issue. But we hope that nothing of that sort happens, and there has been experiences before where it did not happen.
BLOCK: Would that be part of the negotiation in arranging these evacuations?
DABBAKEH: There have been examples where people actually were evacuated, treated and returned back to their homes, and that's the most I can say.
BLOCK: I assume, Mr. Dabbakeh, that this is considered something of a breakthrough that you - that the ICRC has ambulances now in Baba Amr and is working on these evacuations, yes?
DABBAKEH: One, I think it is very important for the ICRC that it has a reputation of being absolutely neutral, that it provides humanitarian assistance and only humanitarian assistance, and that the parties involved in fighting understand this very clearly and hence they trust the ICRC. Trust is what leads to such acceptance.
BLOCK: Does the ICRC see this as a breakthrough, that these ambulances were able to get in and, hopefully, evacuate the wounded?
DABBAKEH: One, if you mean in terms of extending this to other areas, I think yes, and I hope that it will be expanded to include other areas in the country if there is a need.
BLOCK: Saleh Dabbakeh, it's good to talk to you. Thank you very much.
DABBAKEH: Thank you.
BLOCK: Saleh Dabbakeh is a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Damascus, Syria.
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