Red Cross frustrated in Syria evacuation effort

In this Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012 photo black smoke rises into the air from Syrian government shelling, at Baba Amr neighborhood in Homs province, Syria. AP Photo/Local Coordination Committees in Syria

GENEVA - The Red Cross said it has failed to gain access to a besieged neighborhood in the Syrian city of Homs.

The humanitarian group and its Syrian chapter are seeking safe passage to evacuate wounded and sick civilians from Baba Amr, after managing to bring out 27 people Friday.

But a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva says negotiations Saturday "yielded no concrete results."

Hicham Hassan told The Associated Press that talks with the Syrian government and opposition forces would continue Sunday.

Hassan says the Syrian Red Crescent was able to carry out evacuations elsewhere in Syria, including in other neighborhoods of Homs.

Activists said at least 68 people were killed across the country, as regime forces pounded rebel-held neighborhoods in Homs.


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Also on Saturday Syria lashed out at Saudi Arabia, a day after the kingdom's foreign minister backed the idea of arming the rebels fighting President Bashar Assad's regime, accusing Riyadh of becoming "a partner" in the bloodshed in Syria.

The sharp riposte from Damascus, which was published in a state-run newspaper,

Syria's traditionally cold relations with Saudi Arabia have plunged into a deep freeze since the 11-month-old uprising against Assad began. The Sunni power in the region, Saudi Arabia has been a harshly critical of the Assad regime, which is controlled by the minority Alawite sect, and its brutal crackdown against the mostly Sunni opposition.

The Syrian regime's relentless assault on Homs, which has emerged as the heart of the anti-Assad revolt, entered its fourth week with government shelling killing at least 19 people Saturday. An International Committee of the Red Cross team evacuated 27 people Friday from Homs' besieged neighborhood of Baba Amr but has so far failed to get out two wounded Western journalists and the bodies of two other reporters killed by government rockets.

ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan said Saturday that the group and Syrian Arab Red Crescent Society have resumed talks with the government and opposition to continue evacuating all persons in need of help in Baba Amr.

"Until last night, seven wounded persons were evacuated from Baba Amr, as well as 20 women and children," he said.

Syria's Foreign Ministry accused gunmen of blocking the evacuation of the wounded journalists. Activists, however, said that French journalist Edith Bouvier of Le Figaro and British photographer Paul Conroy of the Sunday Times refused to leave Baba Amr with the Syrian Red Crescent Society and demanded that they be taken out by the ICRC.

The bodies of an American and a French journalist who were killed by government shelling Wednesday are still in Baba Amr.

The Syrian uprising began in March with mostly peaceful protests in a number of the country's impoverished provinces. As security forces violently suppressed them, killing thousands, the protest grew and escalated into an increasingly armed insurrection.

The U.N. said last month that 5,400 people had been killed in the Syrian revolt in 2011. Hundreds more have died since. Activists put the number at more than 7,300, but overall figures are impossible to confirm independently.

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