Syria’s Assad backs Red Cross – only if it remains ‘impartial’


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told Red Cross chief Peter Maurer on Tuesday that he supports the work of the humanitarian group in Syria so long as it remains “impartial.”

"President Assad assured the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross that he welcomed the humanitarian operations carried out by the committee on the ground in Syria, as long as it remains impartial and independent," a report said on Syrian state television.

Maurer, who heads the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), was in Damascus on Tuesday for talks with Assad and other officials on ways to deliver humanitarian aid to Syrians caught up in the civil war, a spokeswoman said.

The talks were believed to be focused on the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Syria and the push for better access for aid workers.

Maurer held 45 minutes of talks with the Syrian leader, International Committee of the Red Cross spokesman Hicham Hassan said, without giving details of their discussions.

The ICRC had earlier said Maurer’s trip would tackle the “rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation” in Syria, where Assad has been trying to crush a 17-month-old uprising against his rule, and the difficulties facing aid workers in the country.

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 spokeswoman 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.

In a statement issued 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.”

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

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.

His talks with Syrian officials will, 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.

The number of Syrian refugees rose sharply last month, with more than 100,000 fleeing the war-torn country to seek refuge in neighboring states, according to the UN refugee agency.

Aleppo shelling

Neighborhoods of Syria’s northern city Aleppo, held by opposition fighters, faced renewed army attacks with artillery and mortar fire on Tuesday, are struggling with severe food shortages, a local activist told AFP.

“The regime prevents food from reaching the liberated areas (under rebel control). Residents are forced to smuggle products from neighborhood to neighborhood,” said Barra, an activist in the opposition bastion of Sakhur in Aleppo’s northeast.

The activist said that several districts 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.

At least 22 people have been killed across Syria by security force gunfire, with most of the deaths on the outskirts of Damascus, Al Arabiya reported citing the Syrian Revolution General Commission.

In the southwest rebel bastion of Salaheddin, one rebel died in clashes with government forces, while a civilian was killed by sniper fire in the southern Sukari neighborhood, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

It added that two girls were killed in shelling elsewhere in the province.