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Updated Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 12:04 PM

Red Cross says it can't cope with Syria civil war

By JOHN HEILPRIN
Associated Press

Syria's civil war has been in a downward spiral since summer that makes it impossible for the Red Cross to cope with some of the country's humanitarian needs, the Red Cross president said Thursday.

The civil war in Syria has killed more than 36,000 people and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes since an uprising against the Syrian regime began in March 2011.

Peter Maurer, the head of the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross, said that despite his organization's improved scope of operations in the country, "we can't cope with the worsening of the situation."

"The seriousness of the crisis is deepening with every day and this trend has been uninterrupted since summer," Maurer said. "We see the war and the fighting expanding."

Since summer the Red Cross has improved its transportation and logistics, making it easier to bring in truckloads of food and medicine, but it has become overwhelmed by the dire need of hundreds of thousands of people struggling inside the country, he said. The U.N. says 1.2 million Syrians have been displaced within the country and, in September, the World Food Program helped feed 1.5 million people.

The Red Cross has not had access to all prisons and is in "difficult negotiations" to expand the scope of their prison visits, he said. As the arbiter of the rules of war known as the 1949 Geneva Conventions, the organization has a unique role to play in the monitoring of prison conditions worldwide and providing humanitarian help for people affected by conflict and armed violence.

The Red Cross is awaiting a response to request to visit 25 main prisons in Syria, but also is trying to gain access to other detention facilities, Maurer said. So far, the Red Cross has been limited to visiting three main prisons.

One improvement, he said, was President Bashar Assad's willingness to assign a senior Army officer within his military command to serve as a direct communications link with a Red Cross officer, giving the aid organization "a direct channel in terms of confidential conduct-of-hostility dialogue with the Syrian forces."

"It goes without saying that we do attempt to have the same type of dialogue with opposition forces," Maurer said.

On Friday, the U.N. will hold its sixth "Syrian Humanitarian Forum" in Geneva to coordinate aid delivery among diplomats and officials including the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, European Commission and League of Arab States.


MARTIAL TREZZINI / AP
Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), speaks during an informal meeting with the media at the United Nations building in Geneva, Switzerland.




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