BEIRUT - Saudi Arabia said Sunday that Syrians have a right to take up arms to defend themselves against the regime and accused the Damascus government of “imposing itself by force,’’ as concerns mounted over a humanitarian crisis there.
In a rare televised news conference, Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia said the kingdom welcomed international efforts to broker a cease-fire in Syria but added that they have “failed to stop the massacres.’’
“Is there something greater than the right to defend oneself and to defend human rights?’’ he said, adding that the Syrian people want to defend themselves. “The regime is not wanted by the people,’’ he said.
“The regime is insisting on imposing itself by force on the Syrian people,’’ he said.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been discussing military aid to the Syrian opposition, but the United States and others have not advocated arming the rebels, in part out of fear it would create an even bloodier and more prolonged conflict.
Sunni Saudi Arabia is wary of the wave of Arab Spring uprisings, particularly in nearby Bahrain, where a Shi’ite majority is demanding greater rights from its Sunni rulers. However, the kingdom strongly backs the largely Sunni uprising in Syria.
On Sunday, Red Cross teams handed out food, blankets, and medical kits in central Homs Province, but the government blocked access to the worst-hit district of Baba Amr.
The humanitarian group was trying to help families who fled Baba Amr after a monthlong siege and took shelter in nearby villages, Red Cross spokesman Hicham Hassan said in Geneva.
Government forces have blocked humanitarian access to Baba Amr since Friday, the day after troops seized it. Opposition fighters had been in control of the neighborhood for several months, and a regime offensive on Homs that began in early February aimed to retake rebel-held neighborhoods inside the city.
Syrian troops managed to take control of Baba Amr after nearly a month of intense and relentless shelling, and activists say hundreds were killed in the daily bombardments that led up to the final battle on Thursday. Some Baba Amr residents were killed when, in desperation, they dared to venture out of their homes to forage for food.
Activists have said residents face a humanitarian catastrophe in Baba Amr and other parts of Homs, Syria’s third-largest city with a population of 1 million. Electricity, water, and communications have been cut off, and recent days have seen frigid temperatures and snowfall.
The government had said it would allow the Red Cross into Baba Amr on Friday but then blocked access, citing security concerns. In the meantime, activists accused Syrian forces of killing residents execution-style and burning homes in revenge attacks against those believed to be supporting the rebels.
As the brutal siege of Homs dragged on, Western pressure on President Bashar Assad intensified. The United States has called for Assad to step down, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said he could be considered a war criminal. The European Union committed itself to document war crimes in Syria to set the stage for a “day of reckoning’’ for the country’s leadership, in the way that former Yugoslav leaders were tried for war crimes in the 1990s by a special UN tribunal.
While they continue to appeal for unfettered access to Homs, Red Cross workers were focusing on distributing aid in the village of Abel, about 2 miles from Homs. They hope to distribute aid in the neighborhoods of Inshaat and Tawzii on Monday.