Syria trying to cover up executions, say activists

The UN humanitarian chief entered the shattered Syrian district of Baba Amr, where activists accuse regime forces of trying to cover up evidence of execution-style killings and reprisal attacks following a bloody military siege.

Valerie Amos was expected to give the first outside assessment of the conditions in the neighbourhood in the central city of Homs.

The government had sealed off Baba Amr since regime forces recaptured the neighbourhood from rebels last Thursday following a deadly assault that lasted nearly four weeks. Activists accuse the government of using the past six days to try to cover up evidence of atrocities by the regime.

Khaled Erq Sousi, head of the emergency committee of the Syrian Red Crescent, said that Amos was allowed into Baba Amr. The government had rebuffed an earlier request by Amos to visit the country this month as regime troops attacked Baba Amr, finally wresting it back from rebels who had held it for months.

Amos has said the aim of her visit is “to urge all sides to allow unhindered access for humanitarian relief workers so they can evacuate the wounded and deliver essential supplies.”

Despite international appeals, the Syrian government still has not allowed any aid workers into Baba Amr, saying there was a security risk. But activists say the government has been engaged in a “mopping-up” operation to hide their activities.

After seizing Baba Amr from the rebels, regime forces appeared to be turning their attention to other rebellious areas, including the northern province of Idlib near Turkey. The shift suggested that the Syrian military is unable to launch large operations simultaneously, even though the security services remain largely strong and loyal.

According to witnesses, Syrian troops shelled the northern villages in Idlib yesterday.

Syrian President Bashar al Assad defies mounting international pressure to end the year-old crackdown on an uprising against him.

According to state news agency Sana, Assad said he will continue to confront “foreign-backed terrorism.” Since the uprising began last March, he has blamed armed gangs and foreign terrorists for the unrest, not protesters seeking change.

The UN says more than 7,500 people have been killed since Syria’s uprising began. Activists put the death toll at more than 8,000.

Despite the growing bloodshed, president Barack Obama has said unilateral US military action against Assad’s regime would be a mistake.

In Washington, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta pushed back against fresh demands for US military involvement in Syria to end Assad’s deadly crackdown on his people.

The panel’s top Republican, Sen John McCain of Arizona, said the estimated 7,500 dead and the bloodshed calls for US leadership that a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, displayed during the Bosnian war in the 1990s and that Obama eventually showed on Libya last year.

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