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Aid teams ready to enter Homs

Aid organisations are ready to help evacuate victims trapped in the Syrian city of Homs.

Syria city of Homs. Picture: AFP

GENEVA - Aid teams stood ready on Wednesday to enter the contested Syrian city of Homs to evacuate people trapped and wounded by 10 days of fighting between rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

Both sides had agreed to a temporary truce, the International Committee of the Red Cross said from Geneva.

Teams from the ICRC and its partner the Syrian Red Crescent were ready to go into Homs as soon as possible, pending final arrangements.

"Fighting has been raging for more than 10 days between the Syrian Army and armed opposition groups in several neighbourhoods of Homs city," said Béatrice Mégevand-Roggo, the ICRC's regional head of operations.

"Hundreds of civilians are stuck in the old city of Homs, unable to leave and find refuge in safer areas, because of the ongoing armed confrontations."

Pro-opposition Homs residents said rebels and troops were still locked in fierce battles on Wednesday evening in the neighbourhoods the ICRC wanted to enter.

"They are still firing mortars and missiles into the city and there is heavy fighting in al-Qusour, al-Qarabis and al-Khalidiya," said activist Abu Yazen.

Homs has been at the centre of the 15-month revolt against Assad and became the focus of world concern in February and March, when opposition-held neighbourhoods endured weeks of government bombardments and sniper fire in which hundreds of people were killed.

A Homs resident said a similar evacuation agreement was reached a few days ago but collapsed when shots were fired by Assad's forces. The government said on Tuesday it was trying to evacuate civilians and blamed rebel fighters for obstructing efforts to get people out safely.

In other action, rebels stormed an army barracks in the northwestern province of Latakia overnight and killed at least 20 soldiers, the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The rebels had captured some soldiers, including a colonel, and seized machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, it said.

Latakia, a Mediterranean coastal province and home to Syria's main port, was relatively free of warfare until the past month.

INTERNATIONAL DIFFERENCES

As the action unfolded in Syria, world leaders aired their differences over the conflict at the G20 Summit at the Mexican resort of Los Cabos.

U.S. President Barack Obama said Assad, whose family have ruled Syria for four decades, had lost all legitimacy and that it was impossible to conceive of any solution to the violence that left him in power.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters at the end of the summit: "We believe that nobody has the right to decide for other nations who should be brought to power, who should be removed from power."

Alarmed but apparently impotent to resolve the crisis, the outside world is deeply divided in its response to the increasingly sectarian conflict that threatens to become a proxy war for regional powers.

Western nations and their Sunni Muslim allies in the Gulf and Turkey seek Assad's overthrow but are wary of intervention, while Russia, China and Shi'ite Iran - Assad's strategic ally - have protected Assad from a tough international response.

The situation has now become so dire that a United Nations observer force, orginally deployed to monitor a ceasefire, halted patrols on Saturday after convoys were shot at and attacked by crowds.

Observatory head Rami Abdelrahman said that in the Latakia barracks raid, fighting went on from Tuesday late until just before dawn on Wednesday. Two buildings were destroyed, he said.

In assaults against opposition strongholds across the country, soldiers and militias loyal to Assad killed 19 people on Wednesday, he said.