Amid Homs bombardment, Syria ready to act on a UN call to evacuate civilians


Russia's President Vladimir Putin inspects Mi-24 ground-attack helicopter as he visits a military airbase in the city of Korenovsk, about 1200 km (750 miles) south of Moscow, on June 14, 2012. Russia said today it is not making any new deliveries of attack helicopters to Syria and has only carried out repairs of helicopters sent there many years ago.



Amid its continuing bombardment of Homs province, the Syrian regime said Tuesday that it was ready to act on a UN call to evacuate civilians trapped there for more than a week.

Around 1,000 families had been trapped with little food or water in Homs because of the fighting, the Associated Press reported.

The AP cited a Foreign Ministry statement carried by state-run news agency, SANA, as saying the government had contacted the UN mission about bringing trapped civilians out of the area.

The UN has urged both sides to allow safe passage from Homs and other combat zones to women, children and sick people.

The opposition Syrian National Council has asked for armed peacekeepers to be deployed to the region, according to Agence France-Presse.

The UN mission chief, Gen. Robert Mood, meanwhile, urged both sides in the fighting to "'allow women, children, the elderly and the injured to leave conflict zones, without any preconditions, and ensure their safety."

"I call on the parties to take immediate action to ease the pain of Syrians trapped in the violence and the UN Supervision Mission in Syria stands ready to monitor their release, once the decision is taken," he said.

Reuters cited activists as saying that at least 79 people, most of them civilians, had been killed in violence that had escalated since international observers suspended their mission in Syria on Saturday.

The Syrian government said the observers' efforts failed because of obstruction from armed terrorist groups — its term for rebels leading the 15-month anti-government uprising.

The Syrian statement also accused rebels of using Homs civilians as "human shields."

Meanwhile, Russia has announced that two Russian navy ships are prepared to head to Syria to protect Russian citizens and a naval base there.

"We must protect our citizens," Maj. Gen. Vladimir Gradusov was reportedly quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.

"We won't abandon the Russians and will evacuate them from the conflict zone, if necessary."

Interpreting the news as a sign of Moscow's mounting concern over President Bashar al-Assad's future, the AP wrote that each ship was capable of carrying as many as 300 marines and a dozen tanks — making it the largest known Russian troop deployment to Syria.

Separately, the UK overnight moved to block a cargo ship allegedly carrying Russian-made attack helicopters from reaching to Syria by pressuring The Standard Club in London to remove its insurance, the BBC reported.

The MV Alaed was about 50 miles off Scotland's north coast when the insurer demanded more information on the boat's cargo, effectively preventing the vessel from sailing any further until its owner can secure new cover.

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