BEIRUT (AP) — The Red Cross dispatched an aid convoy to an embattled neighborhood in the Syrian city of Homs Friday, and the U.N. said it was alarmed by reports of execution-style killings after the Syrian army seized the area from rebel forces.
The seizure of Baba Amr by the Syrian army was a blow to the rebels seeking to overthrow the regime of authoritarian President Bashar Assad. The central city of Homs, Syria's third largest, has emerged as a key battleground in the 11-month-old anti-Assad uprisings.
Before government forces stormed the area Thursday, it had been under a tight siege and daily shelling for nearly four weeks. Activists said hundreds were killed and many lived for days with little food and no electricity or running water.
A spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said Friday the agency had received unconfirmed reports of "a particularly grisly set of summary executions" involving 17 people in the area after government forces entered.
Rupert Colville did not provide details but said his office was seeking to confirm the reports and called on both government and rebel forces to refrain from all forms of reprisal.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it sent a convoy of aid trucks to Baba Amr from the capital Damascus early Friday after getting permission from the government.
Khalid Arqsouseh, a spokesman for the Syrian Red Crescent in Homs, said the seven 15-ton trucks were carrying food, milk powder, medical supplies and blankets. They were expected to reach the area early afternoon, despite snow along the route.
Also Friday, a French journalist wounded last week in a rocket attack in Baba Amr last week that killed two other Western journalists is expected to fly home to France from Beirut, said a senior Lebanese security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Activists smuggled Edith Bouvier across the Lebanese-Syrian border Thursday and she is being treated at Beirut's Hotel-Dieu de France hospital.
The attack that wounded Bouvier also injured British photographer Paul Conroy and killed American reporter Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik. Conroy and Spanish reporter Javier Espinosa were smuggled out of Syria this week. Another French reporter, William Daniels, was traveling with Bouvier.
Activist videos posted online Thursday showed the burials of Colvin and Ochlik in Baba Amr early this week. The Syrian government said it dug up the bodies after taking Baba Arm so they could be repatriated.
Syria has faced mounting international criticism over its bloody crackdown on the uprising, which started with peaceful protests but has become increasingly militarized.
The U.S. has called for Assad to step down and Hillary Rodham Clinton said he could be considered a war criminal.
Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin blasted the West Friday for backing the Syrian opposition against the government, saying it has fueled the conflict.
Putin called for both Syrian government and opposition forces to pull out of besieged cities to end the bloodshed, adding that Western refusal to make that demand of opponents of President Bashar Assad has encouraged them to keep fighting.
"Do they want Assad to pull out his forces so the opposition moves right in?" Putin said at a meeting with editors of top Western newspapers in remarks carried by state television. "Is it a balanced approach?"