Red Cross in contact with parties involved in Syria truce

AP News
Posted: Sep 26, 2015 12:06 PM

BEIRUT (AP) — The International Committee of the Red Cross said Saturday it is in contact with "parties" involved in a limited Syrian truce that will see the reciprocal transfer of thousands of Shiites and Sunnis from two battlegrounds.

Damascus-based spokesman Pawel Krzysiek told The Associated Press that the ICRC is not taking part in the negotiations but will serve as a "neutral humanitarian intermediary," adding that "our involvement would concern only humanitarian service Red Cross is able to offer."

His comments came after a U.N.-backed truce was reached to end months of fighting between Sunni insurgents and pro-government forces, including fighters from Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group.

The transfer will allow Sunni insurgents and their families' safe passage out of the central town of Zabadani in return for safe passage for Shiite civilians in the northern villages of Foua and Kfarya, which have been besieged by insurgents. Some 10,000 Shiite civilians and wounded pro-government fighters from the two villages in the rebel-controlled Idlib province will be allowed to leave.

The ICRC announcement came as an activist group said preparations are underway in Zabadani, Foua and Kfarya to "implement the first steps" of the agreement.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists inside Syria, said dozens of seriously wounded people in clinics in Foua and Kfarya are ready to be transferred. It added that some roads have been cleared in Zabadani so that ambulances can take fighters and their families to Idlib.

If implemented, the agreement would be another rare example of international diplomacy successfully brokering an end to fighting in specific areas in Syria. The U.N. previously brokered a cease-fire in 2014 to end a two-year government siege in the central city of Homs.

The Observatory said the six-month truce deal reached this week would include the release of rebel detainees. Turkey and Iran sponsored the deal, it added.

"The vehicles have been ready since the morning but no one has moved yet," Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman said by telephone. He said all the vehicles are from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, and that the ICRC will supervise the mission.

A Lebanese politician who closely follows the situation in Syria said the agreement should be implemented "soon," adding that the situation now is in the hands of the U.N. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters on the matter.

Syria's conflict has killed more than 250,000 people and wounded at least a million since it began in 2011.