Russia, China step up Syria peace effortsAgence France-Presse . Damascus
Russia and China, who twice blocked UN resolutions to condemn ally Syria, were Monday stepping efforts to find a peaceful solution to the crisis, as the Red Cross was again denied access to a battered rebel district.
The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said he was preparing for a meeting on Saturday in Cairo with his Arab counterparts to discuss its ally Syria due to the ‘urgency’ of the crisis.
And China said it was sending a new envoy to Damascus and is ready to support international aid under the auspices of the United Nations or another ‘impartial’ organisation.
The diplomatic moves came as the International Committee of the Red Cross said Monday it had still not been granted permission to enter Baba Amr, the rebellious district of Homs overrun four days ago by regime forces.
‘Negotiations are still ongoing,’ ICRC spokesman Saleh Dabbakeh said, amid mounting international outrage against president Bashar al-Assad’s regime for its 11-month crackdown on dissent which the UN says has claimed at least 7,500 lives.
And days after Britain and France joined the United States in closing their embassies in Damascus over security fears, Air France cancelled its Monday flight to the Syrian capital, citing the unrest sweeping the country.
Rebel fighters fled Baba Amr on Thursday in the face of a ground assault by regime forces following a month-long shelling blitz which the US-based Human Rights Watch said had killed some 700 people.
The ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent Society have sought in vain permission to enter Baba Amr, where hundreds of people are reported to have been killed and even more wounded.
On Friday they sent a seven-truck aid convoy to Homs but they were barred from entering Baba Amr, which fleeing residents say is facing an acute humanitarian crisis.
The authorities say the relief agencies are being barred for their own safety due to the presence of bombs and landmines.
But Syrian anti-regime activists say the authorities are keeping the groups out in order to buy time to hide their ‘crimes.’
The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, has demanded unconditional humanitarian access to Syrian cities, saying there were ‘grisly’ reports of summary executions and torture in Homs, Syria’s third largest city in the centre of the country.
The ICRC said it delivered Sunday relief supplies in a nearby village to refugees who had fled Baba Amr.
On the political front Russia and China — who have faced international criticism for their support of the Syrian regime — separately announced plans to help find solutions to ease the crisis.
Lavrov said he was preparing for a meeting with Arab foreign ministers on March 10 in Cairo.
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