Hussein Malla, Associated Press
QAA, Lebanon — More than a thousand Syrian refugees have poured across the border into Lebanon, among them families with small children carrying only plastic bags filled with their belongings as they fled a regime hunting down its opponents.
The U.N. refugee agency said Monday that as many as 2,000 Syrians had crossed into Lebanon in the last two days. Associated Press reporters in one border village saw families crossing with only a few possessions.
"We fled the shelling and the strikes," said Hassana Abu Firas in Qaa in northeast Lebanon. She came with two families who had fled government shelling of their town al-Qusair, about 14 miles (22 kilometers) away on the other side of the Syrian border.
The town is in Homs province, an opposition stronghold where the government has been waging a brutal offensive for the past month. The province borders Lebanon.
"What are we supposed to do? People are sitting in their homes and they are hitting us with tanks. Those who can flee do. Those who can't will die sitting down," she said.
Homs, the provincial capital and Syria's third-largest city with one million residents, has emerged as a central battleground in the year-old uprising to oust authoritarian President Bashar Assad.
Activists say hundreds have been killed in the month-long Homs offensive and the U.N. recently put the death toll for a year of violence in Syria at 7,500. However, activists group say the toll has already surpassed 8,000.
The crackdown in Homs also killed an American reporter and a French photographer who sneaked into the country and filed their final reports shedding light on the horrors of life under assault and the quickly swelling humanitarian catastrophe in the city.
During the Homs offensive, international condemnation of the Assad regime grew more intense by the day. The U.S. has called for him to step down, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said he could be considered a war criminal. The European Union said it would document alleged war crimes in Syria to set the stage for a "day of reckoning" for the country's leadership, in the way that former Yugoslav leaders were tried for war crimes in the 1990s by a U.N. tribunal.
With international pressure at a peak in the boiling crisis, the Syrian regime said it would allow the entry of two prominent international envoys it has previously rebuffed, said Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby. Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan will visit Syria on March 10 as the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy, Elaraby said. U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos will also be allowed to visit.
In what the U.S. criticized as foot-dragging, Syria previously did not respond to Amos's requests for a visa. It also said it needed more information on the nature of Annan's visit.
In Homs, the Red Cross said it had received permission to enter Baba Amr, the city's hardest hit district, on Monday. Baba Amr had been held by rebels for several months before regime forces drove them out on Thursday. The relief workers have not yet gone in.
The Red Cross has been distributing aid around other parts of Homs for the past two days, but the regime has blocked it from entering Baba Amr since relief workers arrived in the area on Friday. Activists alleged that after the Syrian forces seized back control of Baba Amr, they killed dozens of residents execution-style and burned homes in revenge attacks against those believed to be supporting the rebels.
The Syrian government claims it has been blocking access to Baba Amr out of security concerns.
As the neighborhood remained cut off, concerns mounted over the desperate plight of civilians facing severe cold and hunger, and the reported revenge attacks.
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