Syrian district Baba Amr "pretty devastated" -UN aid chief

Reuters

Posted at Mar 08 2012 07:30 AM | Updated as of Mar 08 2012 03:30 PM

UNITED NATIONS - U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos, who is currently visiting Syria, described the Baba Amr district of the battered city of Homs as devastated by the recent shelling and almost devoid of people, a spokeswoman for Amos' office said on Wednesday.

"She (Amos) said that security was obviously an issue, and they heard gunfire while they were there," said Amanda Pitt, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. "The parts of Baba Amr that they saw, she said they were pretty devastated."

Amos is the first major international figure to visit Baba Amr since the government launched its latest on assault on Homs. Syrian rebel fighters fled Homs recently after nearly a month of shelling by government forces.

Activists reported bloody reprisals by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in Baba Amr after the rebels withdrew.

Syria had initially failed to grant Amos access to the country but relented after Damascus' allies Russia and China joined the rest of the U.N. Security Council in a rare rebuke of Syria for not allowing Amos into Syria.

"It was like a closed-down city and there were very few people around," Pitt said, adding that it "looked like it was devastated from the fighting and shelling."

"They saw a few people looking for their belongings," she said.

A team of Syrian Arab Red Crescent aid workers who entered Baba Amr on Wednesday for the first time in 10 days found that most residents had fled.

Amos on Wednesday met Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem, who Pitt said confirmed that the U.N. humanitarian chief would be able to go anywhere in Syria she wished to go. Amos is back in Damascus and is scheduled to complete her visit on Friday.

Amos' goal is to secure access for humanitarian organizations, which have been barred from the heaviest conflict zones.

The United Nations estimates that more than 7,500 civilians have died in the government's nearly year-long crackdown on anti-Assad demonstrators around the country.

The joint U.N.-Arab League envoy on the Syria conflict, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, is due to arrive in Syria on Saturday.