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Syrian Army smashes Homs neighborhood

Syrian Army smashes Homs neighborhood
Demonstrators take part in a angry protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad after Friday prayers in Binsh near Idlib in Syria, February 24, 2012. Syrian troops shelled the rebel stronghold in Homs for the 22nd straight day, after a pause allowed relief workers to evacuate some civilians, monitors said. UPI | License Photo

DAMASCUS, Syria, March 1 (UPI) -- Syrian Army firepower drove insurgents from a key neighborhood in the city of Homs, rebels said Thursday.

The insurgent force, the Free Syrian Army, said it was retreating from the ruins of the Bab Amr neighborhood because of concerns for civilians and its inability to stand up to the government military offensive, The Washington Post reported.

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The Post said there were unconfirmed reports government forces had entered the neighborhood and were hunting for activists through the streets. The reports raised fears for the estimated 4,000 civilians who remain in Bab Amr.

The New York Times said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported raids and arrests began almost immediately after the battle for the area. The Britain-based group said 17 people had died in Baba Amr Thursday.

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Activist groups said 17 civilians had been hacked to death by government forces on the outskirts of Bab Amr, and some reports said victims had been beheaded.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said later Thursday in a statement that Syrian officials had granted it a "green light" to enter the battered neighborhood and bring "much-needed assistance including food and medical aid and to carry out evacuation operations," the Times reported.

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Meanwhile, the United Nations voted to condemn Syrian President Bashar Assad.

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The U.N. Human Rights Council voted Thursday in Geneva to condemn Assad's government for widespread and systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Britain announced it was closing its embassy in Damascus because of the deteriorating situation.

The non-binding human rights measure was approved by 37 nations. Russia, China and Cuba voted against it.

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The U.N. accused Syria of "force against civilians, arbitrary executions, the killing and persecution of protestors, human rights defenders and journalists, including recent deaths of Syrian and foreign journalists, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, interference with access to medical treatment,

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torture, sexual violence and ill-treatment, including against children."

Thousands of innocent civilians have died in the past 11 months in the government's crackdown on opposition activists. Tens of thousands of Syrians have had to flee their homes, the United Nations said.

The U.N. measure calls for the Syrian government to immediately put an end to all human rights violations and attacks against civilians and "allow free and unimpeded access by the United Nations and humanitarian agencies to carry out a full assessment of needs in Homs and other areas, and to permit humanitarian agencies to deliver vital relief goods and services to all civilians affected by the violence."

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In London, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the British Embassy would close and pulled all personnel from the country, advising other British nationals to leave as well, The Washington Post reported.

"My decision to withdraw staff from the British Embassy in Damascus in no way reduces the U.K.'s commitment to active diplomacy to maintain pressure on the Assad regime to end the violence," Hague said in a statement. 'We will continue to work closely with other nations to coordinate diplomatic and economic pressure on the Syrian regime."

The Baba Amr neighborhood, a stronghold of opposition to Assad, lost all power and communications links Wednesday, including satellite phones activists have used to transmit news and images of the fighting to the outside world, so it was difficult to confirm what was happening.

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