Syria army sends reinforcements to Idlib hotspot as Syria death toll almost at 8,500

The death toll in Syria since protests erupted against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad last March has reached 8,458, a rights group said on Wednesday.

The toll consists of 6,195 civilians, 1,835 soldiers and police, and 428 rebel troops, the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, told AFP.

Tanks and troop carriers were headed Wednesday for the embattled province of Idlib, a rebel stronghold in northwest Syria, said the Syrian National Council, the main opposition alliance.

"The SNC has noted 42 tanks and 131 troop carriers leaving Latakia in the direction of the town of Saraqeb," in Idlib province, "as well as military columns heading for the town of Idlib," the group said in a statement.

In addition, "several martyrs were killed" in bombardment of Maaret al-Naaman, another town in Idlib province, it added.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said seven people were killed in violence across the country on Wednesday, five of them in Idlib province.

One civilian was killed by snipers in the village Atareb, in the northern province of Aleppo, and a child died of gunshots in Khalidiyeh, a neighborhood in central Homs.

The SNC called on the international community, the Arab League and international NGOs to "act urgently and at all levels, to avoid a repeat of the massacre at Baba Amr, where hundreds of martyrs fell."

Baba Amr, a rebel district in the flashpoint city of Homs, fell last Thursday after almost a month of shelling by Syrian forces, and the SNC said the bombardment had reduced much of the city to rubble.

The group urged rebel fighters in the Damascus, Aleppo and Hama regions to "take all the necessary initiatives to alleviate the pressure on our brothers in Idlib."

The Syrian army has intensified its attacks on insurgency strongholds, particularly in Idlib, since it retook Baba Amr.

The Syrian Observatory said seven people were wounded on Wednesday by gunfire when government troops raided the village of Kfar Nabl, in Idlib province. Several people were arrested.

Troops also deployed in the Damascus neighborhood of Qabun, where raids were carried out, according to the Britain-based group.

Military vehicles and troops also launched an assault on the town of Qara, outside Damascus, it said.

Meanwhile, Syrian Red Crescent team entered the battered Baba Amr rebel district of Homs in central Syria on Wednesday, a spokesperson from the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

The team "entered Baba Amr this afternoon," Carla Haddad told AFP, adding that she had no further details.

A seven-truck aid convoy has been waiting since Friday to enter Baba Amr which fleeing residents have said is facing an acute humanitarian crisis in the face of a bloody crackdown on dissent by forces of the Syrian regime.

The authorities had said the relief agencies were being barred for their own safety due to the presence of bombs and landmines.

But Syrian anti-regime activists say the authorities are keeping the groups out to buy time to hide their "crimes."

Meanwhile, Haddad said a joint ICRC-Red Crescent team managed Wednesday to distribute food and other relief items such as bedding and medical aid, to families who have fled Baba Amr.

Over the past two days, aid has been provided to about 350 families, she said.

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