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Humanitarian aid arrives in Homs, Syria, as international pressure builds

Even China and Russia – Syrian allies – have joined the international push for humanitarian relief amid Assad's harsh crackdown.

Syria TV via Reuters TV/Reuters
Damaged buildings covered in snow are seen in Baba Amr district of Homs in this still image taken from video footage broadcast on Syria TV on Friday. Humanitarian aid began arriving in the Syrian city of Homs today, as international pressure on the Syrian government builds.

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Humanitarian aid began arriving in the Syrian city of Homs today, as international pressure on the Syrian government intensified over the violent crackdown on opponents of the Assad regime. Today even Syrian allies Russia and China joined the push for humanitarian relief to the conflict-ravaged country.

A small Red Cross/Red Crescent convoy of trucks reached Homs Friday after a long journey from Damascus through snow, reports BBC News.  The Syrian Red Crescent's Khaled Erksoussi told Agence France-Presse that the convoy was "carrying food, medicines, blankets, milk for babies and other equipment." Red Crescent volunteers and medical personnel plan to distribute the supplies to residents of the besieged neighborhood of Baba Amr, which has been the target of shelling by the Syrian military over the past few weeks. 

But rebels retreated from the neighborhood on Thursday in a "tactical withdrawal," according to the Free Syrian Army. As a result, Red Cross spokesman Sean Maguire told the BBC, "in theory there should be no obstacle to us going in there and staying there on a day-to-day basis. Our colleagues from the Syrian Red Crescent have been distributing food and assistance in other areas of Homs on a daily basis, and we hope to be able to do the same in Baba Amr."

The BBC's Jim Muir writes that the first task for the Red Cross will be to assess the situation, which he expects is grim. "It's freezing cold and snowing; electricity had been cut off and there has been no fuel for heating. Food, water and medical supplies had also run very short.

"Syrian state television carried pictures of Baba Amr and even from afar, it's clear that hardly a building has not been hit during the weeks of bombardment by artillery and tanks," he wrote.

The Red Crescent mission to Homs comes as pressure to allow humanitarian aid into the country increases.  The UN Security Council unanimously voted to express "deep disapproval" of Syria's refusal to allow UN humanitarian aid chief Valerie Amos into the country, reports Reuters.  The vote has particular weight as it included Russia and China, both of which have supported President Bashar al-Assad's regime despite criticism from the West. 

Reuters notes that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin also appeared to distance himself from the regime in an interview with The Times of London, saying that "It is up to the Syrians to decide who should run their country.... We need to make sure they stop killing each other."

But despite the pressure steadily ratcheting up on Mr. Assad, the regime shows no signs of cracking, writes The New York Times.  Assad retains a firm grip on the Syrian military, which retains many advantages over the rebel forces, including a vastly greater arsenal and a cohesive command structure made up primarily of Alawites, the religious sect Assad belongs to.

“For 40 years this army was structured and shaped for the worst-case scenario, which is happening today, and that is why it is holding,” said retired Lebanese Army Gen. Elias Hanna.

The Times adds that a senior US official estimated that the Syrian government's military efforts cost $1 billion each month.  But while analysts say Syria's foreign reserves are presently less than $10 billion, many believe that Russia and China are helping to offset the government's expenses.

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