|Members of the Free Syrian Army check ammunition in al-Bayada district in Homs, February 29, 2012. Most Syrian rebels pulled out of the besieged Baba Amro district of Homs on Thursday after a 26-day siege by President Bashar al-Assad's forces, activists in contact with the fighters said. Picture taken February 29, 2012. REUTERS|
The Free Syrian Army has withdrawn from the Baba Amr area of Homs following an attack on the city by government forces.
The head of the FSA said it had "tactically" pulled out of the neighborhood after nearly two days of an all-out assault by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
Rebels "have pulled out tactically in order to protect the remaining civilians," Colonel Riyadh al-Asaad told AFP.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) confirmed the Syrian government had granted it permission to begin to treat the wounded in the area.
"The Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the ICRC have received the green light to enter Baba Amr tomorrow, including full assistance, medical aid and to carry out evacuations," ICRC spokesman in Damascus Saleh Dabbakeh told Al-Akhbar
Dabbakeh would not speculate on the numbers injured but said they would be taken to nearby hospitals.
"That's what we will try to do. We will try to bring in food and to evacuate people."
"We have the green light to go in tomorrow but anything can happen in between today and tomorrow," he added.
An unconfirmed statement on Facebook claiming to be from the FSA said they had withdrawn due to the worsening humanitarian situation.
"We, the Baba Amr brigade, have decided to strategically withdraw for the sake of the civilians remaining inside the neighborhood. The humanitarian situation is at its worst, as there is no food whatsoever, no medicines, no water and no electricity."
"There is no communication in the area thus making matters much worse. We are also lacking in enough arms to defend the civilians."
89% vote in new Syria constitution
Syria’s Interior Minister has announced that 89 per cent of those who took part in the referendum have voted in favor of a new constitution. The new law puts an end to five decades of one-party rule among other reforms put forward by President Bashar al-Assad.
Interior Minister Ibrahim al-Shaar announced the results of the referendum at a press conference on Monday. ¬
According to the minister, out of 14,580,000 Syrians eligible to vote some 8,376,000, or about 57 percent, actually came to the polling stations and voted.
Al-Shaar said that the opposition groups tried to hamper the vote in some troubled areas like Homs and Idlib. Armed rebels did not allow some people to get to the polling stations he said. The minister has not provided the figures on turnout in these cities.
Those who live in such troubled regions had a chance to vote at polling stations which had been set up out of areas where clashes with the armed opposition still continue. Syrians who live in neighboring countries voted at stations set up near the borders.
“We are satisfied with the results,” al-Shaar said. “The Syrian people have made their choice.”
Russia’s Foreign Ministry considers the results of the referendum in Syria to be evidence of the wide public support for the government's course of reforms.
"The referendum has confirmed that the course for changes is supported by the people,” the ministry’s statement said.“The influence of those opposition groups that called for boycotting the referendum is restricted and gives them no exclusive right to speak on behalf of the Syrian people."
The adopted constitution includes 14 new and 47 amended articles. The reforms put forward by President Assad are designed to stop the bloody uprising and pave the way for free elections in the country.
An unprecedented referendum on a new draft constitution took place in Syria on Sunday. Syrians took an active part in the crucial vote and the officials said turnout was very high.
Despite the fact that the opposition boycotted the referendum, calling it an empty gesture, and called for mass protests, there were no public order violations in Damascus during the vote.
Western politicians considered the referendum to be a farce, with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling it "a cynical ploy" and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle describing it as a "sham vote."
Meanwhile, on Monday the European Union has slapped the Syrian government with its toughest set of sanctions yet. They include an asset freeze on officials, and a ban on importing precious metals and minerals from the country.
More than a year since the uprising in Syria began, violence is still raging on in some parts of the country, including the flashpoint city of Homs, where dozens were reported killed during the weekend.
UN rights body condemns Syria over violations
The main United Nations human rights body condemned the government of Assad on Thursday for violations in Syria that it said may amount to crimes against humanity, and called for a halt to attacks on civilians.
The 47-member Geneva forum adopted a resolution brought by Gulf and Western countries with 37 states in favor and China, Cuba and Russia against. The U.S. human rights ambassador said these three countries "are on the wrong side of history."
The Human Rights Council strongly condemned "the widespread and systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Syrian authorities," including the deadly use of heavy artillery and tanks to attack residential areas.
Syria's delegation boycotted the emergency debate after its ambassador to the UN in Geneva stormed out on Tuesday.
The United States as well as nine Council members from the European Union (EU), including Britain and France, voted in favor of the text, which was also endorsed by Turkey.
EU High Representative Catherine Ashton said that the international community had sent "yet another unequivocal call" to Syrian authorities to halt abuses and address urgent needs.
"Every possible lever must be pulled to stop the violence and killing of civilians," she said in a statement.
It is the fourth time since April that the forum, which has moral authority but no legal force, has condemned Syria. There were three abstentions and four delegations did not vote.
Russian diplomat Vladimir Zheglov, rejected the text as "yet another example of one-sided, political approaches to the situation in Syria being pushed forward by some countries."
Elite government forces pounded a rebel bastion in Homs on Thursday in what appeared to be a final push on the opposition stronghold after more than three weeks of siege and bombardment, activists said.
The Council said Syrian violations included shelling that has killed "thousands of innocent civilians," executions, the killing and persecution of protesters, arbitrary detention and interference with access to medical care. It voiced strong concern at the deteriorating humanitarian situation and called for food, medicines and fuel to reach besieged populations.
It was vital to ensure accountability for crimes "including those violations that may amount to crimes against humanity."
Syria's ally Iran defended the government and said it should be given "time and space" to implement the "sweeping reforms" it has promised.
"Coercive sanctions and interference in internal affairs of Syria, in particular unacceptable covert efforts by some specific countries to arm the opposition groups, would only lead to deepening the crisis with all its consequences to the whole region," Iran's ambassador Seyed Mohammad Reza Sajjadi said.
He warned that "threats of military intervention, sanctions or regime change" would complicate the situation.
Independent U.N. investigators, in a report issued on February 23, said Syrian forces have shot dead unarmed civilians, shelled residential areas and tortured wounded protesters in hospital on orders from the "highest level." The team said it had compiled a list of Syrian civil and military authorities suspected of international crimes.
"We will work to ensure that evidence of human rights violations and abuses committed by all forces in Syria continues to be gathered and securely stored so that those responsible for atrocities will be held accountable," Britain's ambassador Peter Gooderham told the talks on Thursday.
British diplomats evacuate Syria
British diplomats have been withdrawn from Syria for "security reasons", William Hague said on Thursday.
The foreign secretary tweeted: "I have informed Parliament that I have withdrawn British diplomats from #Syria & suspended our Embassy there for security reasons."
In a statement to parliament, the foreign secretary said he had decided to suspend the services British Embassy in Damascus and take out all diplomatic staff. The announcement comes shortly after Egypt’s ambassador left.
-Reuters, Al-Akhbar, TAAN, RT, Huffington Post