Syrian rebels say they are withdrawing from Baba Amr

The New York Times reports: After a bruising, 27-day siege under intensifying bombardment, rebels holed up in the shattered Baba Amr district of the central Syrian city of Homs announced a “tactical withdrawal” on Thursday, apparently handing victory to forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad but raising concerns about the plight of civilians in the neighborhood.

A campaign of raids and arrests began almost immediately in the area, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in Britain, which said 17 people had died in Baba Amr on Thursday.

Baba Amr had become an emblem of resistance with fighters maintaining their defiance despite daily reports of a pounding by artillery, sniper and tank fire as government forces encircled them. The announcement of a rebel pullout, a day after government forces seemed to crank up military pressure on the neighborhood, came as Western and Arab nations pressed to deepen the diplomatic isolation of the Damascus authorities.

A statement from the fighters within the neighborhood, the “Revolutionary Brigades of Baba Amr,” said they were making a tactical retreat because of the “drastic humanitarian situation for the residents” who are lacking food, medicine, water, electricity and any means of communication.

The government shelling, which began on Feb. 4, had practically leveled Baba Amr, the statement said, and the government forces enjoyed an overwhelming superiority in firepower from helicopters to tanks to mortars.

With about 4,000 residents left, the statement held the government soldiers responsible for the safety of those left and called for international humanitarian organizations like the Red Cross to be allowed to deploy in the quarter.

There are widespread concerns that the army units might exact revenge on the residents for holding out for a month — not least because the Syrian government has a history of murdering the residents of rebellious neighborhoods as it did in nearby Hama in 1982.

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