Red Cross evacuates 7 from restive Syrian area

BASSEM MROUE BEN HUBBARD Associated Press Published:

BEIRUT (AP) -- A Red Cross team evacuated seven people Friday from a besieged neighborhood in the Syrian city of Homs to a hospital elsewhere in the city, an official said.

Red Cross spokesman Hicham Hassan said it wasn't clear whether two wounded foreign reporters who are stranded in the city were among those moved to the hospital. The Syrian Foreign Ministry said opposition forces refused to release a wounded French journalist and the bodies of two killed this week in government shelling.

The effort to evacuate the reporters and wounded local residents is part of a wider international push to bring aid to people in the areas hardest hit by Syria's efforts to quash the uprising against President Bashar Assad's rule.

Workers from the local branch of the Red Cross entered one of those areas Friday, the besieged neighborhood of Baba Amr in Homs, to negotiate with Syrian authorities and armed opposition groups the evacuation of wounded civilians.

Government troops have been besieging the neighborhood and regularly shelling it for weeks.

Hassan said the organization's local branch, the Syrian Red Crescent, took seven people from the neighborhood in southeast Homs to the city's al-Amin hospital, which is privately owned and located nearby. He said he did not know whether those evacuated included foreign journalists.

At least two foreign reporters who sneaked into the city were wounded in a rocket attack earlier this week. They are French journalist Edith Bouvier and British photographer Paul Conroy.

French photographer William Daniels, who was not injured, was also with them.

American correspondent Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik were killed in the same attack.

In a statement, the Syrian Foreign Ministry accused "armed groups" in Baba Amr of refusing to hand over a wounded woman journalist and the dead bodies of two others.

It said the government had sent several local "dignitaries" and ambulances from the Syrian Red Crescent to evacuate the journalists.

But after several hours of negotiations, the groups "refused to hand over the wounded journalist and the two bodies, which endangers the life of the French journalist and blocks the return of the bodies to their countries."

Activists in Baba Amr could not immediately be reached for comment.

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Associated Press writer Frank Jordans contributed to this report from Geneva.