DAMASCUS: Aid organizations stepped up calls for civilians trapped in the flashpoint Syrian town of Qusayr to be evacuated, as rebel fighters braced for a fresh assault from regime forces on Sunday.
United Nations (UN) agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) appealed to both sides in the fighting to let the civilians, including 1,500 wounded according to UN figures, leave the embattled town.
Saturday saw fierce fighting in the north of the town between rebel fighters and government troops backed by its Hezbollah allies, said a watchdog.
UN Secretary Gen. Ban Ki-moon called on both sides to allow civilians to leave, and the organization’s rights chief and relief coordinator called for a ceasefire so they could do so.
Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights watchdog, said on Saturday that “the opposition fighters are fighting with everything they’ve got.
“Regime forces are reinforcing the sites that they have north of the city, including Dabaa airport and Jawadiya,” he said.
The group said at least 15 tanks were massed north of Qusayr, a prize for both the regime and the rebels as it links Damascus to the coast, and is near the Lebanese border, providing a key rebel conduit for weapons and fighters.
The town has been the scene of fierce fighting for two weeks now.
With fears growing for the civilians there, Abdel Rahman said around 1,000 wounded people were trapped inside Qusayr. UN officials suggested the figure could be even higher.
“We understand there may also be as many as 1,500 wounded people in urgent need of immediate evacuation for emergency medical treatment, and that the general situation in Al-Qusayr is desperate,” said a joint statement by UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos and UN human rights commissioner Navi Pillay.
In New York, UN chief Ban Ki-moon urged “all sides to do their utmost to avoid civilian casualties,” spokesman Martin Nesirky said in a statement.
Ban also called on all sides to help trapped civilians escape the town.
In Geneva, the ICRC also expressed alarm.
“Civilians and the wounded are at risk of paying an even heavier price as the fighting continues,” said Robert Mardini, head of Middle East operations. AFP
He called for restraint on all side, adding that the ICRC had already requested access to the town.