Syrian Rebel Stronghold Falls

PHOTO: Syrian rebels gather in front of the remains of a burnt military vehicle belonging to Syrian government forces destroyed by the rebels during clashes at Khaldiyeh neighborhood in Homs province, Syria on Feb. 23, 2012.
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The Syrian army's siege of Homs has ended when rebel fighters slipped away, according to residents of the city reached by ABC News by phone.

Rebels fighting President Bashar al Assad's forces say they have pulled out of the rebel stronghold of Bab Amr, and a government official says the Syrian army now has control in the area.

The Bab Amr district had endured nearly four weeks of shelling by tanks and artillery, as well as attacks from snipers, as part of the regime's campaign to crush opposition enclaves across the country. Hundreds of civilians are reported to have died in the attacks in Bab Amr alone, and there's growing concern about the humanitarian situation, as well as fears of reprisals by government troops.

The rebel group known as the Free Syrian Army announced what it described as a tactical retreat in a statement released today.

"We have decided to strategically withdraw for the sake of the civilians remaining inside the neighborhood. The humanitarian situation is at its worst, as there is no food whatsoever, no medicines, no water and no electricity."

Homs resident and political activist identified only the name Dana told ABC News' Christiane Amanpour every home is equipped with a tank of reserve water, but those supplies are quickly running out. Many residents are resorting to melting snow to drink.

"Basically everything is not available," Dana said. "It's very difficult to pass anything between neighborhoods because movement is impossible. Soliders are all over the city, and going through a checkpoint -- it's just not worth putting your life in danger. You never know what they will do."

Activist Abo Emad was in Bab Amr until Thursday morning. "After we left the neighborhood the regime army entered. And it killed a lot of people, the soldiers. There were 11 people slaughtered at the hands of the regime army. Slaughtered like sheeps, by knives," he told ABC News.

Images broadcast by state television have shown images of a devastated city.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Syrian Red Crescent have been told by the Syrian authorities that they will be allowed to enter Bab Amr on Friday.

"The humanitarian situation on the ground is worrying and we're looking forward to starting operations so we can evacuate the seriously wounded and the dead," ICRC spokesperson Carla Haddad said today.

Two French journalists trapped by the fighting were safely evacuated to Lebanon today according to their newspaper Le Figaro. Edith Bouvier and William Daniels were injured in the same shelling in Homs that killed fellow journalists Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik.

Rebels fighters have promised to fight on. "We promise you, the people of Syria, Bab Amr will remain the eye and heart of this revolution until we gain full victory. Whatever the price we have to pay and whatever we have to give up...we are returning stronger God willing," the Free Syrian Army said today.

Syria's main opposition group has formed a central military command to help coordinate its resistance to the regime. Burhan Ghalioun, head of the Syrian National Council, told a news conference in Paris, "The revolution started peacefully and kept up its peaceful nature for months, but the reality today is different…we want to control the use of weapons so that there won't be a civil war."

The United Nations Security Council in New York has again expressed its disappointment that UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos has not been allowed to visit Syria by the Assad regime. In a rare unanimous statement, the members of the council called for humanitarian personnel to be given full access to those in need of aid.

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