Red Cross seeks daily humanitarian truce in Syria

Reuters News
|
Posted: Feb 21, 2012 10:49 AM
Red Cross seeks daily humanitarian truce in Syria

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called on Syrian authorities and rebels on Tuesday to agree immediately on a daily two-hour ceasefire to allow vital aid to reach civilians and wounded to be evacuated from hard-hit areas including Homs.

"The current situation requires an immediate decision to implement a humanitarian pause in the fighting," ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger said in a statement.

"It should last at least two hours every day, so that ICRC staff and Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers have enough time to deliver aid and evacuate the wounded and the sick," he said.

In Homs and in other affected areas, families have been stuck for days in their homes, unable to step outside to get food, water, or obtain medical care, according to Kellenberger, a former senior Swiss diplomat at the ICRC's helm since 2000.

ICRC spokesman Bijan Farnoudi said that the talks with both sides in the conflict were confidential and the agency could not reveal their respective reactions to the proposal.

Syrian government forces killed 21 people and wounded some 340 on Tuesday when they unleashed a heavy artillery barrage on a rebel-held district of Homs, activists said.

In Damascus, security forces fired on demonstrators overnight, wounding at least four, activists said, in the latest sign that the 11-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad is taking a grip on the capital as well as the provinces.

The ICRC is the only international agency to deploy aid workers in Syria, where the United Nations has been shut out.

On Monday, Reuters was the first to report that the ICRC was negotiating with Syrian authorities and opposition fighters on a humanitarian cessation of hostilities.

Since the start of the revolt against Assad nearly a year ago, the ICRC has delivered food and medical supplies to major hotspots in joint convoys with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

In the past 10 days, during the Syrian forces' assault on Homs, it has managed to bring aid to that city, as well as to the towns of Bludan, Zabadani and Madaya in the countryside around Damascus, according to the statement.

"A temporary halt in the fighting would allow the ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to step up their assistance significantly and better respond to the vital needs of the population," it added.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Alistair Lyon)