Skip to main content

Syria's embattled Qusayr off-limits to aid workers

By Tom Watkins, CNN
June 8, 2013 -- Updated 1747 GMT (0147 HKT)
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow met with Syrian refugees in January 2013.
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow met with Syrian refugees in January 2013.
  • Still no access to aid 3 days after government forces take the city
  • The Security Council is urging Damascus to allow aid to Qusayr
  • The UN appealed Friday for $5 billion in aid to Syria

(CNN) -- Three days after Syrian government forces seized control of the strategically important city of Qusayr, aid workers remained unable Saturday to enter the region, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

"As of today, ICRC still doesn't have permission to enter Qusayr region and will continue to make all efforts to obtain access as and when security allows," spokesman Ewan Watson said in a statement.

The U.N. Security Council had urged on Friday that Syrian authorities let humanitarian reach the town.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said this week that it had received reports that as many as 1,500 wounded civilians were trapped in Qusayr, which endured nearly seven weeks of fighting until government forces gained control on Wednesday.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights reported that almost 600 of the wounded were unable to walk. Many were trapped in narrow areas near the city, the network said.

Civil war draws closer to Golan Heights
Face to face with Syria's snipers
Video evidence of Syria using sarin gas?

The ICRC said that, over the past two days, the Lebanese Red Cross transferred 39 Syrians to receive emergency medical care. The casualties were already on Lebanese territory and were not taken across the border by the Red Cross, Watson said.

In the village of Eastern Bowaiyda in Homs province, where many of those displaced by fighting in al Qusayr have sought shelter, clashes erupted between rebels and Syrian troops after the government forces tried to latter attempted to advance on the area, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported Saturday that the army had restored stability to the region.

Most of those who fled Qusayr to Lebanon are women and children.

"Those we have spoken to say it is unsafe to flee with men, who are at heightened risk of being arrested or killed at checkpoints along the way," said Melissa Fleming, spokeswoman for the U.N.'s refugee agency, earlier this week.

Fleming said one woman told the agency that Qusayr residents were facing a stark choice: "You leave and risk being killed ... or you stay and face a certainty of being killed."

Fighters from Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese Shiite militia backed by Iran and the Syrian government, were involved in the takeover.

The loss of what had been a rebel stronghold near the Lebanese border represented a blow to rebels' efforts to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and may portend heightened sectarian tensions.

The government's control of the city helps secure a critical link between the capital, Damascus, and Alawite strongholds such as Tartus and Latakia, said Charles Lister, an analyst at IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Centre.

He predicted that the manly Sunni rebels' loss would spark a rise in cross-border attacks on Shiite towns in eastern Lebanon and possible attacks on Hezbollah forces farther inside the country.

More than 70,000 Syrians -- most of them civilians -- have been killed in the two-year conflict, according to the United Nations.

The growing need in Syria was underscored Friday when the United Nations made its largest appeal ever -- for more than $5 billion -- for relief aid to Syrians across the country.

"Syria as a civilization is unraveling, with as many as half of its citizens in need of urgent help as a result of this savage conflict," said Antonio Guterres, the world body's high commissioner for refugees, who announced the goal in Geneva. "The funds we are appealing for are a matter of survival for suffering Syrians, and they are essential for neighboring countries that are hosting refugees."

More than 1.6 million Syrians have fled the country since the conflict began in March 2011; another 4.25 million are estimated to have been displaced inside it.

The announcement came as the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs predicted that 3.45 million inside Syria could have crossed its borders by the end of the year and another 6.8 million people remaining inside Syria will need aid.

That's nearly half of the nation, which has a population of 22.5 million.

CNN's Bharati Naik contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
Syrian crisis
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 1243 GMT (2043 HKT)
Jihadists have kidnapped over 140 Kurdish boys to "brainwash" them. But a few boys made a daring escape.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 1248 GMT (2048 HKT)
Reports that Syrian warplanes carried out a cross-border attack on Iraqi towns is further evidence of the blurring of the two countries' borders.
June 24, 2014 -- Updated 2133 GMT (0533 HKT)
CNN's Atika Shubert speaks to a father whose teenage son joined the Jihad movement in Syria.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1141 GMT (1941 HKT)
At the start of Syria's civil unrest, Omar would rally against the government alongside his schoolmates, later taking to the streets in his hometown of Salqin.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 2117 GMT (0517 HKT)
Atika Shubert looks at the rise of European jihadists traveling to Syria and whether they soon could join ISIS in Iraq.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
The final stockpile of Syria's chemical weapons has been shipped out of the country, according to the OPCW, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
June 25, 2014 -- Updated 2025 GMT (0425 HKT)
The US isn't doing airstrikes in Iraq. Is there a vacuum for Syria and Iran to step in? CNN's Fareed Zakaria weighs in.
June 10, 2014 -- Updated 0804 GMT (1604 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports on Syrian rebels using underground explosions against the better-equipped regime.
June 9, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh returns to the besieged rebel areas of Aleppo, a pale skeleton of a city that has had the life bombed out of it.
June 2, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
Syria may be embroiled in a brutal three-year civil war, but that's not stopping the government from holding presidential elections.
June 3, 2014 -- Updated 1123 GMT (1923 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh meets an ISIS defector in hiding and gets a rare look into the group's recruitment process.
June 5, 2014 -- Updated 1610 GMT (0010 HKT)
Over a thousand Syrian refugees have turned an abandoned shopping mall in Lebanon into makeshift living quarters.
May 28, 2014 -- Updated 2119 GMT (0519 HKT)
What caught our experts' ears was as much about what he didn't address as much as what he did.
May 20, 2014 -- Updated 1019 GMT (1819 HKT)
The three-year war in Syria has claimed 162,402 lives, an opposition group said Monday, as the raging conflict shows no signs of abating.
May 31, 2014 -- Updated 0141 GMT (0941 HKT)
Official: The U.S. believes a jihadi featured in a suicide bombing video in Syria is Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha who grew up in Florida.
May 20, 2014 -- Updated 1437 GMT (2237 HKT)
For the first time, Britain has convicted someone of a terrorism offense related to the Syrian civil war.