Evacuations in Syria as diplomatic pressure mounts

(Reuters) - The first wounded and sick women trapped in themost embattled district of the Syrian city of Homs have been evacuated, andtalks were held to evacuate more on Saturday, while pressure mounted onPresident Bashar al-Assad's government to call a ceasefire and let inhumanitarian aid.
Assad's forces killed 103 people in Syria on Friday in thebombardment of the besieged city of Homs and in attacks on the countryside ofHama and the east and north of the country, the activist group LocalCoordination Committees said.

Most of those killed were civilians, including 14 childrenand one woman, it said.
The killings continued the same day that Western and Arabnations meeting in Tunis mounted the biggest diplomatic push in weeks to endSyria's 11-month-old crackdown on the opposition.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Assad -- andhis backers inside Syria and abroad -- that they will be held to account forthe crackdown on opponents and what she described as a humanitarian catastrophein Syria.
Addressing her comments to Russia and China, which vetoedtough action on Syria in the United Nations, she said: "They are settingthemselves not only against the Syrian people but also the entire Arabawakening."
"It's quite distressing to see permanent members of theSecurity Council using their veto when people are being murdered - women,children, brave young men -- houses are being destroyed. It is justdespicable."
"I am convinced Assad's days are numbered, but I regretthat there will be more killing before he goes," she said.
President Barack Obama, speaking in Washington, said:"It is prime time to stop the killing of Syrian citizens by their owngovernment."
"All of us seeing the terrible pictures coming out ofSyria and Homs recently recognize it is absolutely imperative for theinternational community to rally in sending a clear message to President Assadthat it is time for a transition."
Diplomatic moves are hamstrung, so far at least, becausethere is little appetite for military intervention in Syria and attempts toease Assad out via the United Nations Security Council have been stymied byRussian and Chinese vetoes.
Beijing and Moscow declined invitations to attend themeeting in Tunisia.
In a tacit acknowledgement that the scope for pressuringAssad through diplomacy is limited, some of the delegates at the conference --especially Gulf states long opposed to Assad -- pressed for an internationalpeacekeeping force in Syria and favored arming the Syrian rebels.
The Syrian opposition, meanwhile, appeared to be takingmatters into its own hands, saying it was supplying weapons to rebels insideSyria while Western and other states turned a blind eye.
Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal ledthe hawkish camp, saying that arming the Syrian rebels would be "anexcellent idea."
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said theSyrian Arab Red Crescent initially brought out seven women and children fromthe besieged Baba Amro district of Homs and took them to a hospital inelsewhere in the city.
A further 20 uninjured women and children were evacuatedlater and taken to "a safe area," ICRC chief spokeswoman Carla Haddadsaid. Foreign journalists trapped in the area were not among them.
"It's a first step forward," Haddad told Reuters."The priority now is evacuating the seriously wounded or sick.
"We are continuing discussions to resume the operationtomorrow morning."
With the bombardment of opposition-held neighborhoods inHoms entering its fourth week on Friday, the ICRC has been negotiating with theSyrian government and opposition forces to bring out the sick and wounded fromBaba Amro.
But foreign journalists trapped in Baba Amro, two of thembadly wounded, refused to leave the besieged neighborhood without an ICRC andforeign diplomatic presence, and a commitment to a full humanitarian ceasefire,it said.
Two of the journalists, Edith Bouvier and Paul Conroy, needurgent medical care. The bodies of slain journalists Marie Colvin and RemiOchlik, killed this week, remain in Baba Amro.
A Syrian Foreign Ministry official, quoted by the state newsagency, said attempts to bring the journalists out of the area had beenobstructed by opposition groups.
"Authorities in Homs sent a number of notables of thecity and ambulances from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to receive the foreignjournalists who had entered Syria illegally," the official said.
"Despite continuing this effort for several hours witharmed groups in Baba Amr, these groups refused to hand over the wounded and thebodies - putting the life of the wounded French woman in danger and hinderingthe return of the bodies (of the two dead journalists) to their respectivecountries."
A French and ICRC plan to get international medical teams into extract the foreign journalists and tend to the neighborhood's most badly woundedwas rejected by the Assad government, activist group Avaaz said.
With the wounded being taken only as far as a hospital inHoms, it was unlikely men would agree to leave the area for fear of fallinginto the hands of Syrian security forces.
"Baba Amro is being hit with 122mm artillery directedat it from surrounding villages. A father and his 14-year-old son were amongthose killed. They were trying to flee the shelling when shrapnel hit them inthe street," resident Mohammad al-Homsi said.
Activists also said Syrian security forces lined up and shotdead at least 18 people in a village in the central western Hama province. Avideo uploaded by activists showed people wrapping the bloodied bodies ofchildren and at least four adults. Several had been shot through the head.
(Editing by Michael Roddy)