Syrian rebels have pulled out of the besieged Baba Amro district of Homs on Thursday after more than three weeks of bombardment by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, activists in contact with the rebels said.
They said a few fighters had remained behind to try to cover the “tactical withdrawal” of their comrades, according to Reuters news agency.
Local Coordinating Committees in Syria said that Syrian security forces have now advanced their attack on Baba Amro after the rebels pulled out, Al Arabiya reported.
“The Syrian army controls all of Baba Amro. The last pockets of resistance have fallen," a security official in Damascus told AFP.
A statement in the name of the fighters called on the International Committee of the Red Cross and other humanitarian groups to enter Baba Amro and bring aid to 4,000 civilians who “insisted on staying in their destroyed houses.”
“We warn the regime against any retaliation against civilians and we hold it fully responsible for their safety,” the statement said.
Government forces have bombarded Baba Amro, a symbol of the 11-month revolt against Assad, since Feb. 4.
“The Free Army and all the other fighters have left Baba Amro, they pulled out,” one of the activists said.
Meanwhile, the head of Syrian National Council (SNC) announced on Thursday at a press conference in Paris, the launch of a military council to support the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Burhan Ghalioun who said that SNC will be seeking advice from consultants and experts on how to support, organize and oversee FSA, added that the formation of the military council came after consensus among all armed oppositions in Syria.
Ghalioun said that the military council was also created after some countries announced that they were ready to arm the FSA. He said it is a step to bring together one Syrian umbrella all armed groups in a bid to reduce foreign influence in the country.
“We know that some countries have expressed a desire to arm the revolutionaries. The SNC, via its military bureau, wanted to organize this flow to avoid direct arms deliveries from particular countries,” he said.
But the Arab League chief, Nabil al-Arabi, said on Thursday that the Arab group has nothing to do with the decision to arm the Syrian opposition.
The SNC has also called for indicting Assad’s regime.
On a side note, the SNC chief said in the conference that the badly injured French journalist, Edith Bouvier, is in a “safe” place in Syria. Bouvier was wounded in an explosion that killed the Sunday Times journalist, Marie Colvin.
In related news, Turkey, which has shown its extensive support to the Syrian opposition and has hosted a large number of defected Syrian soldiers, said on Thursday that it has not agreed to host an office for the newly formed military council.
At the start of the Syrian revolt nearly a year ago, many protesters said they wanted to remain peaceful. But as the assault continued, an armed insurgency comprised largely of defectors from the military has developed to fight the regime.
Meanwhile, Kuwaiti parliament became the third Gulf nation to show its support to the FSA. It also called for an international trial for Assad.
And Britain has decided to withdraw all diplomatic staff from Syria and suspend services at its embassy in Damascus in response to worsening security in the country, a diplomat said on Thursday.
The United Nations Human Rights Council on Thursday adopted a resolution calling for Damascus to end all rights abuses and allow access to the U.N. and humanitarian agencies.
Russia, Cuba and China voted against the resolution and India, Philippines and Ecuador abstained.
Assault against Homs continues
Syrian rebels were still holding out on Thursday more than 24 hours into a ground assault by regime forces against the Homs neighborhood of Baba Amro, a human rights group and an activist said.
“The Free Syrian Army has succeeded in stopping the attempt to attack Baba Amr, and it continues to resist,” Homs-based activist Hadi Abdullah told AFP.
He said that troops loyal to Assad “have not entered the district,” which has become a symbol of the Syrian uprising after 27 straight days of bombardment.
The head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, said: “The fighting between deserters and the army continues on the edges of Baba Amr, not inside.”
He said at least 12 soldiers had been killed in the assault so far.