Syrian refugees in Lebanon ‘feared being slaughtered in own homes’

Up to 2,000 people flee Syria in two days as Assad security forces hunt down opponents during offensive on Homs

Syrian refugees fleeing to neighbouring Lebanon on Monday said they feared they would be slaughtered in their own homes as government forces hunted down opponents in a brutal offensive against the opposition stronghold of Homs.

Activists accused the regime of trying to hide its crimes from the world as the military cracks down on an anti-government uprising that has raged for nearly a year.

With world pressure at a peak, the Syrian regime agreed to allow in two prominent international emissaries it had previously rebuffed – former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, the new special envoy to Syria, and UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos. Annan will go to Damascus on Saturday and Amos said she will arrive in the capital tomorrow and leave on Friday.

Amos said the aim of the visit is “to urge all sides to allow unhindered access for humanitarian relief workers so they can evacuate the wounded and deliver essential supplies”.

The Obama administration added Syrian state television and radio to a US sanctions list – part of an effort to block Syrian government assets within the US. The treasury department’s sanctions chief, Adam Szubin, said the Syrian General Organisation of Radio and TV has “served as an arm of the Syrian regime as it mounts increasingly barbaric attacks on its own population and seeks both to mask and legitimise its violence”.

He said any institutions supporting President Bashar al-Assad government’s “abhorrent behaviour will be targeted and cut off from the international financial system”.

The UN refugee agency said on Monday that as many as 2,000 Syrians had crossed into Lebanon over the last two days. In the Lebanese border village of Qaa, families with women with small children came carrying only plastic bags filled with a few belongings.

“We fled the shelling and the strikes,” said Hassana Abu Firas. She came with two families who had fled government shelling of their town al-Qusair, about 14 miles (22km) away, on the other side of the Syrian border.

The town is in Homs province, where the government has been waging a brutal offensive for the past month.

“What are we supposed to do? People are sitting in their homes and they are hitting us with tanks,” Firas said. “Those who can flee, do. Those who can’t will die sitting down.”

Although the government promised to let the Red Cross enter the hardest-hit district of Homs, Baba Amr, last week, regime forces refused to let the humanitarian teams inside, citing security concerns. On Monday the Red Cross said it had received new permission to enter, but the lockout continued.

Activists say hundreds have been killed in the month-long Homs offensive, and the UN recently put the death toll for a year of violence in Syria at 7,500. Activists say the toll has already surpassed 8,000. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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