The Syrian conflict is “rapidly deteriorating” as wounded people die because medical aid is lacking, International Committee of the Red Cross President Peter Maurer said following a three-day trip to the country.
“I was shocked by the immense destruction of infrastructure and homes in several areas I visited,” Maurer said in an e-mailed statement from Geneva today. “Health workers face tremendous difficulties in performing their duties. Many men, women and children who could be saved are dying on a daily basis because they lack access to medical care.”
Maurer said he met President Bashar al-Assad and several ministers and visited war-torn areas on the outskirts of Damascus. “There have been many casualties, and now the situation is rapidly deteriorating,” he said, adding that Assad agreed to facilitate efforts by the ICRC to step up its humanitarian-aid work. The Syrian leader has made similar pledges in the past.
United Nations efforts to end the 18-month conflict have faltered as military monitors left the country and fighting increased with battles engulfing areas of the two biggest cities, Damascus and Aleppo. A bomb exploded outside a Damascus mosque today, causing casualties, the Associated Press reported, citing state-run Syrian TV.
The U.S. and its allies have called on the divided opposition to present a united front against Assad. On Sept. 4, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon took an indirect swipe at Russia, as well as Gulf nations such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, for bringing weapons into Syria, a move he said is “only contributing to further misery.”
More than 26,400 people have been killed since protests against Assad’s rule broke out in March 2011, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists across the country. At least 82 people, including 26 in Damascus and its suburbs, were killed in fighting today, the activist Local Coordination Committees reported. The Observatory said civilians including children died when government forces bombarded towns and cities including al- Zabadani, al-Shheil and Jabal Shahshabo.
As the number of people fleeing the fighting grows, the UN’s refugee agency is scaling up its operations in Syria and across the region, said Adrian Edwards, a UNHCR spokesman.
Call for Help
“The help we are seeking includes for household items, financial assistance for 200,000 people considered vulnerable, medical assistance, counseling of displaced populations, rehabilitation of shelters and support to encourage refugee and displaced Syrian children to return to school,” Edwards told journalists in Geneva today, according to an e-mailed statement.
Government forces have arrested tens of thousands of people whose rights must be upheld, Maurer said, adding that he and Assad discussed the ICRC’s request to visit detainees. The Syrian president “expressed his readiness to address this issue,” he said.
“The positive commitments I received during my meetings will obviously have to be followed up and tested in the coming weeks,” Maurer said. “Each day that passes brings more casualties and human suffering. I will personally pay the closest attention to how the outcome of our discussions materializes on the ground.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Jennifer M. Freedman in Geneva at firstname.lastname@example.org; Francis Harris in London at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: James Hertling at firstname.lastname@example.org; Andrew J. Barden at email@example.com