Middle East

Syrians flee to Lebanon amid Homs atrocity claims

More than 1,500 Syrians have crossed into Lebanon in recent days, the UN's refugee agency says, amid reports of troops committing atrocities in Homs.

A UNHCR spokeswoman said 170 families had sought refuge in the village of al-Fakha and 50 others in nearby Arsal.

The agency and other local groups are sending food, blankets and other aid.

The UN's human rights commissioner has meanwhile described as "truly shocking" video appearing to show torture victims in the Military Hospital in Homs.

The footage, filmed by an employee at the hospital in the past three months and broadcast by the UK's Channel 4 News on Monday, shows wards full of wounded men, blindfolded and shackled to their beds.

Some appear to bear marks of extreme beating, and the hospital employee said many patients were whipped and beaten in their beds.

Security 'restored'

Many of the refugees who have crossed into Lebanon have come from Homs, and particularly the opposition stronghold of Baba Amr, which troops entered on Thursday after nearly four weeks of bombardment.

Some have also fled the town of Qusair, 15km (nine miles) from Homs and close to the border, which has also been attacked.

Dana Suleiman of the UNHCR told the AFP news agency that 220 families - each comprising about six or seven people, mostly women and children - had sought refuge in the eastern Bekaa region of Lebanon.

"We are trying to verify whether there are additional people in other areas and how many have returned to Syria," she added.

The UN estimates that 70,000 people have been displaced since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in March, and that more than 20,000 have fled to Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. Nearly 7,000 people were registered with the UNHCR in northern Lebanon last week.

People fleeing Homs have told the BBC that security forces are committing atrocities there. Men and boys were being detained in raids or at checkpoints, and then tortured or even executed summarily, they said.

One woman told the BBC's Paul Wood on the outskirts of the city that soldiers had rounded up 36 men and boys in her district, including her son, on Friday - a day after rebel fighters withdrew from the Baba Amr district.

"My son's throat was cut," she said. "He was 12."

On Tuesday, one activist group, the Local Co-ordination Committees, said security forces personnel and pro-government militiamen had killed 13 members of two families with knives in Baba Amr.

Earlier, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that Syrian forces had destroyed a bridge being used by refugees to enter Lebanon.

The bridge over the Orontes river at Rabla, 3km (2 miles) from the border, was hit by artillery shells and could no longer be used, activist Hadi Abdallah told the AFP news agency.

Refugees receive aid in the Lebanese city of Tripoli (6 March 2012)
The UN estimates that 70,000 people have been displaced since the uprising began last March

Syria's state news agency, Sana, meanwhile reported that many families from Baba Amr were returning home because the authorities had "restored stability and security" to the district.

"Public workshops also continued maintenance and cleaning works, opening roads, streets and removing the debris left by the terrorists who sabotaged the general and private properties," it said, adding that reconnaissance planes and anti-tank grenades had been found.

Despite this, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Syrian Red Crescent have not been allowed into to Baba Amr to deliver aid and evacuate the wounded since Friday. Officials have cited security concerns.

The UN's Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, has said she has been given permission to visit Syria on Wednesday and that she would call for "unhindered access for humanitarian aid".

The former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, is also due to visit Syria at the weekend as joint special envoy for the UN and the Arab League. On Wednesday, he will hold talks with Arab League officials in Cairo.

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged Syria to allow the opening of humanitarian corridors to get relief supplies to civilians.

He said the people of Homs were in particular need of help, but he gave no details of which routes the aid corridors might take.

'Hospital torture'

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has meanwhile expressed dismay at what appears to be the first video evidence of torture at the Homs Military Hospital, allegedly perpetrated by security forces personnel, as well as by military and civilians medical staff.

"The pictures shown on Channel 4 last night are truly shocking, and unfortunately very much in accordance with evidence that has been accumulated in the Human Rights Council-mandated Fact-Finding Mission and Commission of Inquiry reports on Syria," her spokesman, Rupert Colville, said.

The footage taken by a Homs Military Hospital employee showed wards full of wounded men, shackled to their beds and blindfolded.

"I have seen detainees being tortured by electrocution, whipping, beating with batons, and by breaking their legs. They twist the feet until the leg breaks," he told Mani, a French photojournalist who smuggled the video out of Syria.

"They perform operations without anaesthetics," he added. "I saw them slamming detainees' heads against walls. They shackle the patients to beds. They deny them water. Others have their penises tied to stop them from urinating."

The authorities have not commented and the video cannot be verified.

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites