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Syria aid expected to enter Baba Amr on Tuesday; regime directs shelling to new villages

Violence shifts from the north and west of Syria to its southern border with Jordan, as reports emerge of increasingly sophisticated rebel arms.

syria deraa homs bombing 5 3 2012Enlarge
A view of a deserted street strewn with debris in the restive city of Homs, some 160kms north of the Syrian capital Damascus on February 25, 2012. China called for an end to violence in Syria on March 4, 2012, as the regime of Bashar al-Assad sparked international outrage by blocking aid from reaching the battered Baba Amr flashpoint in Homs city. -/AFP/Getty Images (-/AFP/Getty Images)

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Red Cross officials said they would be permitted to enter Baba Amr, the embattled district of Homs where Syrian troops overran Free Syrian Army rebels last Thursday. The aid group was promised entry to the city immediately after it fell last week, but the Syrian government blocked the seven-truck convoy from entering without offering an explanation, the Associated Press reported on Monday. The Red Cross delivered aid to other villages near Homs, and three trucks now hope to enter Baba Amr.

Meanwhile, the United Nations warned on Monday that up to 2,000 Syrian refugees are headed to neighboring Lebanon. Reuters reported that the UN refugee agency spokesman in Beirut, Dana Sleiman, said that the numbers were high in April 2011, but "stabilized since then." There are reports of shelling and gunfire in border towns. The Lebanese Armed Forces deployed additional forces to the northern border, which is close to Homs. 

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While violence abated in Baba Amr, regime forces turned their attention to other areas in Syria: Rastan, Tall Kalakh and Qusair suffered shelling in the days following the Homs defeat. "They finished with Baba Amr, and now they have turned their attention to [another Homs neighborhood] Khaldiyeh and the surrounding villages," an officer with the rebel forces in Tall Kalakh told the Los Angeles Times. "They want to finish all of the Free Syrian Army, from Homs to its entirety. They will destroy the whole village just so they can get inside." Reuters reported that fighting had spread from the north and west of the country — where flashpoint cities Homs and Idlib are located — to the south, where uprisings agains the regime first began. 

Deraa — the city where children who scrawled anti-regime graffiti (reportedly pictured in this video) were arrested and tortured, sparking the first protests — saw overnight violence as rebels attacked regime checkpoints, Reuters reported. The Free Syrian Army reportedly attacked the roadblocks, and the regime responded by firing anti-aircraft tank munitions into residential neighborhoods. "About 20 buses carrying troops were seen heading from the football stadium in the north to the southern sector the city on the border (with Jordan)," an activist told Reuters.

Rebel violence is also turning a corner, reports USA Today, which said on Monday that the use of improvised explosive devices - IEDs - is on the rise. Pentagon analysts said this points to increased foreign assistance. "We have reached a point where it is an insurgency," Joe Holliday, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, told USA today. In a summary of a covert New York Times reporting mission to Syria, photographer Tyler Hicks detailed how he and Anthony Shadid witnessed Syrian rebels use a "homemade bomb" which he called "their most effective weapon" in a battle that would have otherwise been kalashnikovs versus regime tanks. Shadid died of an asthma attack when sneaking back across the Syria-Turkey border.

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Russia and China, who stonewalled diplomatic efforts at the United Nations, softened their stances over the weekend. Vladimir Putin, who was re-elected president on Sunday, said "we have no special relationship with Syria," according to AFP. Meanwhile, China signaled growing unease with Syrian violence and dispatched an envoy to Damascus, Haaretz reported. But it still holds out hope for a diplomatic solution, "As long as there is one ray of hope, China will make a hundredfold efforts," foreign ministry spokesman Li Huaxin said.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/120305/syria-red-cross-homs-baba-amr-deraa-jordan-violence