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Rebels retreat from Baba Amr

The Syrian suburb that became the symbol of the year-long uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad has fallen government forces after a bloody, month-long siege in which hundreds of people are reported to have been killed.

world Updated: Mar 02, 2012 23:43 IST

The Syrian suburb that became the symbol of the year-long uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad has fallen government forces after a bloody, month-long siege in which hundreds of people are reported to have been killed.

Amid reports that government troops were carrying out reprisal killings against civilians trapped in the snow-blanketed Homs neighbourhood, Baba Amr finally fell after Free Syrian Army fighters said they were abandoning their positions.

The few fighters and activists who remained described appalling scenes with "hundreds" of dead and wounded.

"The Free Syrian Army and all the other fighters have left Baba Amr. They pulled out," one activist said from Homs.

The retreat followed heavy clashes around the suburb on Wednesday that took place as an unnamed Syrian official said the army intended to "cleanse" the opposition centre.

Witnesses in Homs, Syria's third largest city with a population of a million, said on Wednesday that heavy fighting was continuing in other neighbourhoods.

Activists reported the main focus of the army's assault was now the districts of al-Bayada and al-Khalidiyeh in the city's north and Karm al-Zeytoun to its east.

One activist in al-Khalidiyeh told the Guardian he could see four or five tanks near his neighbourhood, which had come under fire earlier in the day. "I can see tanks in Sitteen Street and near the Jawal roundabout," he said. "There are a lot of snipers in my neighbourhood. The shelling started hours ago and is still continuing."

The commander of the Free Syrian Army, Riad al-Asaad, based in Turkey, confirmed the rebel withdrawal, but said the fight would go on until Assad was toppled.

Red Cross to enter Baba Amr
As Baba Amr fell, the International Red Cross and Syrian Red Crescent said they had been given permission to enter the district on Friday to deliver food and medical assistance and evacuate the wounded.

A Red Cross spokesman said: "The International Committee of the Red Cross received positive indicators from the Syrian authorities. It is more urgent than ever to implement our initiative of a humanitarian ceasefire…"