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Syria’s Baba Amr district deserted, Red Cross says

BEIRUT – The U.N. humanitarian chief toured the shattered Syrian district of Baba Amr on Wednesday but found most residents had fled after a bloody military siege, while activists accused the government of trying to cover up evidence of atrocities there.

The visit by Valerie Amos, the New York-based undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, was the first by an independent outside observer since the Syrian military began its monthlong assault of the rebellious neighborhood. A key stronghold of the uprising to oust authoritarian President Bashar Assad, it was wrested from rebel control March 1.

Amos made no statement, but a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross said she entered the ravaged neighborhood with a team from the Syrian Red Crescent that had been waiting nearly a week to be allowed in to deliver aid.

“The Syrian Arab Red Crescent stayed about 45 minutes inside the neighborhood,” Red Cross spokesman Hicham Hassan said in Geneva. “Volunteers say that most inhabitants have fled Baba Amr.”

The Syrian regime has kept the neighborhood sealed off over the past six days, saying it was too dangerous for humanitarian workers to enter. But activists accused the government of engaging in a “mopping-up” operation to hide their atrocities.

“They haven’t let anyone in for a week, and now they are going to let them in?” Homs activists Tarek Badrakhan told The Associated Press. “Today it’s simple: They finished their crimes and hid all the proof. Now they think they can show that everything is normal.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton lashed out at the delays.

“The regime’s refusal to allow humanitarian workers to help feed the hungry, tend to the injured, bury the dead, marks a new low,” she said. “Tons of food and medicine are standing by while more civilians die and the regime launches new assaults.”

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