The Syrian government has granted permission for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to enter the shattered district of Baba Amr in Homs.

Hours after the Free Syrian Army made a "tactical retreat" from the besieged district following two days of ground fighting with the Syrian army, President Bashar al-Assad's regime said it would allow the organisations to enter the city to "bring in much-needed assistance, including food and medical aid and to carry out evacuation operations," an ICRC spokesman said.

Following a month of bombardment by the Syrian army and a two-day ground assault on Baba Amr, residents of Homs were suffering from shortages of food, medicine, water, electricity and fuel, prompting fears of a humanitarian disaster.

A seven-lorry aid convoy was due to arrive in Homs, along with ambulances and volunteers to evacuate the wounded from Baba Amr, though snow was hindering the convoy's progress.

Activists said that residents were waiting for the convoy as intermittent shelling continued, adding that government troops had been searching all the houses in the neighbourhood.

Jacques Beres, a French doctor who arranged to be smuggled into Homs to help medics in field hospitals, said there were extreme supply shortages, causing medical staff to resort to taking shortcuts to patch up the wounded since they were unable to operate or deal with head wounds.

Beres also said that allegations medics in hospitals overtaken by the military were forced to participate in torture, including unnecessary amputations, are "probably, almost certainly true".

The United Nations Security Council has demanded that UNhumanitarian chief Valerie Amos be allowed "immediate and unhindered access" to Homs, as well as other parts of Syria.

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