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Red Cross chief to discuss aid with Assad

2012-09-04 12:02

Damascus - Red Cross chief Peter Maurer was in Damascus on Tuesday for talks with President Bashar Assad and other officials on ways to get humanitarian aid to Syrians caught up in the civil war, a spokesperson said.

Maurer "arrived yesterday evening in Damascus for his first visit since his appointment as successor to Jakob Kellenberger from July 1", said International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spokesperson in Damascus Rabab Rifai.

Besides Assad, Maurer will meet with Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, Interior Minister Mohammad al-Shaar, Health Minister Saad Nayef Abdessalam and minister of state for national reconciliation, Ali Haidar, said Rifai, but gave no timings for the meetings.

Maurer's mission will "focus on increased humanitarian needs and to remind the belligerents of their obligation under international law related to the protection of civilians" in particular, said Rifai.

Maurer, who is in Syria until Thursday, will not meet representatives of the opposition "at least under the framework of this visit", she said, adding however that he could make a "field trip".

In a statement issued on Monday in Geneva, Maurer said: "At a time when more and more civilians are being exposed to extreme violence, it is of the utmost importance that we and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent succeed in significantly scaling up our humanitarian response."

Access to aid

"It is vital that we build on what has already been achieved on the ground," he added.

His talks with Syrian officials will largely deal with the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Syria, as well as the difficulties the ICRC and the Red Crescent face as they try to reach people affected by the armed conflict, the ICRC said.

Maurer said he planned to bring up points agreed with the Syrian regime in April, including "expanded access to persons detained in Syria and the imperative necessity of helping civilians affected by hostilities".

Despite the difficult working conditions, the ICRC said it and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent had provided nearly 180 000 people with food in the hardest-hit parts of the country since mid-July.

Since the beginning of the year, the two organisations have provided relief items to more than 800 000 people and have helped more than one million people access clean water, it added.