After having complained the regime would not let her into the country, where the government has been fighting to crush a year-long uprising, Valerie Amos met Wednesday with Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, the Syrian Foreign Ministry said.
She entered Baba Amr — a neighborhood in Homs that has been besieged in the government crackdown — along with a team from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. The visit lasted only 45 minutes, said ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan.
The visit came as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lashed out at Syria for the growing humanitarian crisis.
“The regime’s refusal to allow humanitarian workers to help feed the hungry, tend to the injured, (and) bury the dead marks a new low. Tons of food and medicine are standing by while more civilians die and the regime launches new assaults. This is unacceptable and we agree completely with a great majority of the international community.
“The regime must, as it promised last November, withdraw its forces, release political prisoners, permit peaceful protests and allow international journalists to do their jobs, which is to tell the truth,” Clinton said in Washington.
Syria — which blames the violence on “terrorists” — said on state-run news agency SANA that Amos “stressed respect for Syria’s sovereignty and rejection of using the humanitarian dimension for political purposes.”
Al-Moallem “stressed that the Syrian leadership is doing its best to provide the foodstuffs and medical care and services for all citizens despite the burdens it faces because of the unfair sanctions imposed by some Arab and Western countries on Syria,” SANA reported.
But opposition activists reported yet another day of widespread violence by the government.
At least 40 people were killed Wednesday, including seven children, one woman and two military recruits, according to the opposition Local Coordination Committees in Syria. The death toll included 26 people in Homs, seven in Idlib, two in the Aleppo suburb of Atareb, three in Daraa and two in Damascus suburbs, the group said.
SANA said 14 “army and law enforcement martyrs” were buried Wednesday.
Clinton called on all countries to come together to bring an end to the violence by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
“It is past time for all Syrians to break with Assad and stand against this bloodshed,” she said.
Syrian authorities last week granted teams from the Red Cross and the Red Crescent permission to enter Baba Amr; but on Friday, the ambulances and aid workers carrying food and medical supplies were turned away.
Opposition activists in Homs say al-Assad’s regime has been trying to clean up evidence of a bloody massacre in Baba Amr before aid workers arrive.
On Wednesday, the Red Crescent team found that most inhabitants of Baba Amr have fled, the team said, according to ICRC spokesman Hassan, who spoke to CNN from Geneva, Switzerland.
SANA claimed authorities have restored “stability and security” to the neighborhood that was attacked by “armed terrorist groups.” It said workers were “removing the debris left by the terrorists.”
State TV said Wednesday that Baba Amr residents were “returning to their homes as the destruction caused by armed terrorist is being restored.”
“My aim is to urge all parties to allow unhindered access for humanitarian relief workers so that they can evacuate the wounded and deliver essential supplies,” Amos said before the trip.
Al-Assad continues to argue that the Syrian people support his regime. At a meeting Tuesday, he “underscored that the power of every state lies in popular support,” SANA reported Wednesday. And al-Assad insisted that Syrians “have once more proved their ability to safeguard Syria and build the renewed Syria through their determination to pursue reforms in parallel with encountering the terrorism backed by foreign sides.”
Large crowds of citizens demonstrated Wednesday in support of the regime in Damascus, SANA reported.
But opposition activists reported heavy attacks by the Syrian regime.
A member of Binnish Coordination Committee, a local opposition group, reported seeing 42 tanks and 131 armored personnel carriers heading toward Idlib. Activists were expecting the Syrian army to begin a full-fledged assault on the city.
In Hama, more than 15 homes were destroyed and an ancient citadel was severely damaged by artillery shelling from the regime, Local Coordination Committees activists said.
In Homs, dozens were wounded amid heavy shelling by regime forces, the LCC said.
In some Damascus neighborhoods, security forces carried out a raid-and-arrest campaign and demolished homes, the LCC said. In the Harasta suburb, people were wounded in heavy gunfire by regime forces, and clashes were reported, the LCC said.
In Idlib, near the Turkish border, there was heavy and indiscriminate fire, the LCC said.
CNN cannot independently confirm reports across Syria because the government has severely restricted the access of international journalists. But the vast majority of reports out of Syria indicate that al-Assad’s forces are slaughtering civilians in opposition hotbeds in an attempt to wipe out dissidents seeking his ouster.
China has evacuated most people working for its projects in Syria, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Air France flights between Paris and Damascus have been suspended until further notice because of the ongoing violence, the company said Wednesday.
The U.N. Security Council is circulating another proposed resolution to end the violence and pursue “immediate humanitarian access.”
Preliminary discussion began among the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Morocco, said Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Western diplomats said the goal is to bring Russia and China into the fold by creating a less harsh version of the last draft resolution — which the two countries vetoed — that would emphasize the humanitarian situation. They said they want the Russians and Chinese to join the call for a “permissive environment” for humanitarian access.
Russia, meanwhile, said Wednesday that humanitarian issues must be urgently resolved, Russian state-run news agency RIA Novosti said.
Russian diplomat Mikhail Bogdanov told the Syrian ambassador to Russia, Riyad Haddad, that the country backed the missions of Amos and former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the special envoy to Syria for the United Nations and the Arab League.
Russia is urging the Syrian forces and all parties to stop the violence and “create conditions for the real and inclusive political dialogue between Syrians without outside interference.” Haddad “confirmed the readiness of the Syrian government for a constructive dialogue with the opposition,” the news outlet said.
Annan will begin his visit to the region Wednesday in Cairo. He will meet with the league’s secretary-general, Nabil Elaraby.
“He will then proceed to Damascus on Saturday to seek an urgent end to all violence and human rights violations and to initiate efforts to promote a peaceful solution. He is also due to visit other countries in the region,” the United Nations said.
The Syrian government says that more than 2,000 security personnel have been killed in the violence.
The United Nations has said at least 7,500 people have died in the crackdown, while opposition activists put the toll at more than 9,000.