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Fighting in Syria impedes delivery of food, medical aid

Syrian forces shelled Houla, near Homs, earlier this week, activists said.

REUTERS

Syrian forces shelled Houla, near Homs, earlier this week, activists said.

BEIRUT — Syrian forces bombarded the city of Homs for a sixth day in a row Friday, while government soldiers backed by Hezbollah fighters clashed with rebels on the outskirts of the city’s besieged Khalidiya neighborhood amid warnings from international health officials that fighting was increasingly preventing humanitarian aid from reaching those most in need.

Government forces have trained their sights on Homs and the northern city of Aleppo in recent weeks since they recaptured the strategic border town of Qusair last month. Anti-government activists have said the government was aided in the battles by fighters from Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi’ite militant group.

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The group has not confirmed that, saying only that it would go where it was needed to fight the insurgency against Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, which Hezbollah leaders say threatens Lebanon and the region.

On Friday, clashes intensified near Khalidiya, which the army has been trying to storm for weeks, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based watchdog group with a network of activists in Syria.

While the Syrian army holds large sections of Homs, rebels continue to hold out in a few central neighborhoods. The sustained violence has left the civilian population in dire need of humanitarian assistance, prompting the Syrian National Coalition, the main exile opposition body, to release a statement Friday asking the United Nations to provide immediate aid.

“The areas under attack in Homs have been cut off from the rest of the world and suffer an urgent shortage of medicine and staple foods,” the dispatch read.

Restrictions put in place by the Syrian authorities in recent weeks have increasingly blocked delivery of medicine and medical supplies around the country, even to areas under government control and even as health needs are escalating for people trapped in two years of conflict, the World Health Organization warned Friday.

“The main problems are to get medicines and medical supplies out from Damascus,” the Syrian capital, Elizabeth Hoff, the agency’s representative in Damascus, said in a telephone interview. Hoff said there was an acute lack of dialysis treatments for more than 5,000 patients and there were reports of doctors being forced to deliver babies by Caesarean section without proper anesthetics.

The health agency’s warning was one of several alarms sounded by UN organizations Friday. The human rights office expressed concern for the fate of several thousand civilians caught in parts of Homs and urged all parties to allow civilians to leave the area without fear of persecution or violence.

The United Nations’ Rome-based food agencies warned that Syrian crop production had slumped as a result of the disruption and population displacement caused by the war, leaving a quarter of the population unable to produce or buy sufficient food.

The World Food Program said it was providing food support for 2.5 million people and was trying to put in place the logistical capacity to support 4 million people by October.

Yet, the deeply divided UN Security Council failed to approve a statement calling on the Syrian government to allow immediate access to 2,500 civilians trapped in Homs.

Russia, Syria’s closest ally, and Western nations, which support the opposition, were again at odds — as they have been since the Syrian conflict began over two years ago.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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