Red Cross chief brings humanitarian mission to Syria

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Vehicles wait to transport Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), for a meeting with Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus September 4, 2012. (Photo: REUTERS /Khaled al-Hariri)

Published Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Red Cross chief Peter Maurer began a series of meetings in Syria on Tuesday amid a surge of bombings and clashes in the capital and the second city Aleppo that left scores more dead, a spokeswoman said.

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, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spokeswoman in Damascus Rabab Rifai said.

Making his first visit to violence-wracked Syria since being appointed as ICRC head on July 1, Maurer met with President Bashar al-Assad for 45 minutes in the morning and is slated to meet with other senior officials, including Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, Rifai said.

The visit comes amid a surge in violence in the past weeks across Syria, where according to the United Kingdom-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights more than 5,000 people were killed in the month of August alone.

The group relies on its information from a network of activists on the ground. No figures could be independently verified.

An activist said that on Tuesday, several districts of the northern city were bombarded with artillery and mortar fire as was an area near the Aleppo airport, bordering the Nayrab district in the southwest of the city.

A senior commander in charge of the regime offensive on Aleppo told AFP that the army would recapture the city from the rebel forces "within 10 days."

Some 3,000 troops were involved in the fight against about 7,000 "terrorists," said the general, adding that 2,000 of the insurgents had been killed since the assault on Aleppo was launched at the start of August.

In the capital Damascus, fighting broke out in the Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp early Tuesday between members of the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) and rebel fighters, the Observatory said.

It also reported fighting between rebels and the army in the capital's southern district of Tadamun, which is adjacent to the camp.

Yesterday, Ma'an news agency reported that two Palestinians were killed when the camp was shelled.

The Syrian Revolution General Council, a network of opposition activists, said that panicked residents were fleeing the Yarmuk camp in droves amid the fighting.

On Monday, a car bomb ripped through the mainly Christian and Druze Damascus suburb of Jaramana, killing at least five people, according to SANA, Syria's state news agency.

In Madrid, the opposition Syrian National Council appealed to the international community for weapons and urgent military intervention to defend civilians from such attacks.

The plight of civilians was at the forefront of the ICRC mission to Syria, Maurer said in a statement issued on Monday in Geneva.

"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," the ICRC chief said.

His talks with Syrian officials would 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 statement said.

According to the Observatory, more than 26,000 people have been killed in Syria since the revolt began in March last year. The United Nations puts deaths at about 18,000.

In Ankara, a US official told AFP that CIA director Petraeus was in Turkey for regional meetings, without elaborating.

His visit comes less than two weeks after Turkish and US officials held their first operational planning meetings aimed at bringing an end to the Assad regime.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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