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UN demands immediate 'unhindered' humanitarian access to Syria

Syrian troops are now in control of Baba Amr,  while rebel fighters have apparently fled. ITV's John Irvine reports.

 The U.N. Security Council is deploring the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Syria and calling on authorities there to grant U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos "unhindered access," according to The Associated Press.

A statement -- the first on Syria to be approved by the council in seven months -- is significant because it requires the agreement of all 15 council members, including Russia and China, who last month vetoed two resolutions condemning the Syrian government's bloody crackdown and calling for President Bashar Assad to step down.


While a U.N. statement is not legally binding on Syria, it does reflect the growing concern of the council about the impact of the year-old conflict on Syria's civilian population.

Syrian rebels retreated Thursday from a neighborhood in Homs that they had held for months, saying they were running out of weapons and humanitarian conditions were catastrophic after almost four weeks of government bombardment.

Graphic: The siege of Homs

Within hours of the rebels' withdrawal, President Bashar Assad's government granted permission for the International Committee of the Red Cross to enter the besieged neighborhood of Baba Amr in Homs on Friday. Human rights workers have been appealing for access to Baba Amr for weeks.

"The ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent received today from the Syrian authorities the green light to enter Baba Amr tomorrow to bring in much-needed assistance including food and medical aid, and to carry out evacuation operations," spokesman Hicham Hassan told The Associated Press.

A guide with a cameraman shot video inside Homs, Syria showing evidence of continuing violence in the besieged city. ITN's John Irvine reports.      

Earlier, rebels told journalists that a few fighters had remained behind in the shattered quarter to cover the "tactical withdrawal" of their comrades. The withdrawal appeared to be an agreement between the two sides in order to avoid a showdown, the BBC reported.

Syrian forces, which shelled Baba Amr earlier in the day despite world alarm at the plight of civilians trapped there, said they were in full control of the district, the BBC reported.

The head of the Free Syrian Army, Col. Riyad Assad, told the BBC that government troops had moved in and were combing the area. The Free Syrian Army is composed mainly of Syrian soldiers who have defected and volunteer civilians.

Images: The fear of carnage to come

A senior official in the FSA earlier told Reuters that rebels in Baba Amr were fending off more than 7,000 government troops. Opposition forces had promised to step up attacks elsewhere in Syria to try to relieve the pressure.

Reports from the city could not be verified immediately due to tight government restrictions on media operations in Syria.

Also on Thursday, Kuwait's parliament said it would support the rebel Free Syrian Army, and called on the Kuwaiti government to cut ties with Assad.

The parliament, which has limited legislative powers, called for Assad to be prosecuted for crimes against his people.

'Whatever the cost'
The 4th Armored Division, which was leading the assault on Homs, is commanded by Maher Assad, the president's younger brother, who has won a reputation for ruthlessness during the past year of revolt against the government.

A Lebanese official close to Damascus said Assad's government was determined to regain control of Homs, Syria's third city, which straddles the main north-south highway.

"They want to take it, whatever happens, without restraint, whatever the cost," the official told Reuters, asking not to be named.

He said defeat for the rebels in Homs, a city of 1 million people, would leave the opposition without any major stronghold in Syria, easing the crisis for Assad, who remained confident he could survive.

Smugglers take 'path of death' to supply Syria revolt

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told members of Congress on Tuesday that Assad could be considered a war criminal.

While shelling continues on Homs, it was confirmed journalist Paul Conroy, of the Sunday Times, who was wounded in the attack that killed reporter Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik, is safely out of Syria.  ITN's Tim Ewart reports.

The U.N. estimates that more than 7,500 people have been killed since the anti-Assad struggle started in March 2011, when protesters inspired by successful Arab Spring uprisings against dictators in Tunisia and Egypt took to the streets in Syria.

Syria's government said in December that "armed terrorists" had killed more than 2,000 soldiers and police during the unrest.

Journalists escape to Lebanon
On Thursday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said wounded French freelance journalist Edith Bouvier had arrived in Lebanon from Syria along with French photographer William Daniels.

Bouvier's family confirmed the news of her arrival in Lebanon to French TV channel France24.

Sarkozy, in Brussels for a European summit, told reporters that Bouvier would be flown home to France in a government plane. The flight could happen as soon as Thursday evening if doctors agreed, he said.

"Edith Bouvier and William Daniels are safely in Lebanon and will very shortly be under the protection of our embassy in Beirut," he said.

Bouvier's femur was shattered during heavy shelling of Homs's rebel-held Baba Amr district, which killed veteran Sunday Times war correspondent Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik last week.

Meanwhile, Spanish reporter Javier Espinosa, one of several Western journalists trapped in Baba Amr for a week, crossed to Lebanon on Wednesday, an activist said, following the escape on Tuesday of wounded British photographer Paul Conroy.

Thirteen Syrians were killed while aiding Conroy's escape, the activist group Avaaz said.

The Local Coordination Committees, a human rights monitoring group, said Bouvier had previously refused to leave Baba Amr without the Syrians who were wounded by shelling while attempting to help her escape, and she has called on the French ambassador for help.

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Msnbc.com staff, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.