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Red Crescent aid centre torched in Syria's Homs

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 4 Apr 2012 16:09 GMT
Author: Reuters
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(Adds government blaming "terrorists" for fire, Edits)

BEIRUT, April 4 (Reuters) - A Syrian Red Crescent distribution centre in Homs - a flashpoint city in the anti-government uprising - was burned to the ground on Wednesday, activists and a source close to the aid group said.

There were conflicting reports about what caused the fire.

Some activists said the building had burst into flames after shelling on Qarabees, a neighbourhood in Homs that has seen heavy clashes between the army and rebels in the year-long uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's rule.

However, a source close to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent said unknown saboteurs had set fire to the building, which had been a warehouse for a government company before being donated to the Red Crescent as an aid distribution centre.

"Somebody set fire to that building. People knew what that building was, and what was in it," the source said. "Sadly, the Red Crescent was supposed to do an aid distribution today."

Syria's state news agency SANA said police had blamed the fire on "terrorists groups", which they said destroyed the building but caused no casualties.

The International Committee of the Red Cross negotiated for weeks with the Syrian government and rebels to ensure the Red Crescent, its local partner in Syria, could provide a steady supply of aid and medical care into violence-hit areas such as the Homs district of Baba Amr.

The army drove the rebels from Baba Amr last month after months of gun battles and heavy shelling.

On Wednesday, opposition activists accused forces loyal to Assad of bombarding rebel areas as a U.N. mission was expected to arrive in Damascus in a first step to implement an international peace plan. (Reporting by Erika Solomon; Editing by Ben Harding)

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