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Humanitarian crisis ICRC president demands total access in Syria

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Syrian boys sell balloons at the Hamadiyah market in Damascus in May

Syrian boys sell balloons at the Hamadiyah market in Damascus in May

(Keystone)

Although Syria seems to be going through a relatively peaceful period, the humanitarian situation remains daunting, according to Peter Maurer, president of the Swiss-run International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). 

“Various places are more peaceful than even a few months ago,” Maurer told the Tages-Anzeiger and Der Bund newspapers on Tuesday, having recently returned from a visit to a country he described as “exhausted by conflict”. Possible reasons for the calm, in his view, include local reconciliation work bearing fruit and diplomatic efforts between leading powers having a positive effect. 

“But when it comes to peace and tranquillity, Syria is still far from being Sumiswald,” he said, referring to a wooded region in canton Bern. 

“Nearly half of the population has been displaced and all are exhausted by conflict. The humanitarian needs are enormous, and in parts of the country affected by ongoing fighting these needs are in fact rising sharply,” he said. 

“Even if the conflict ends tomorrow, the scale of the humanitarian challenge will be daunting.” 

Maurer said it was “obvious that a political solution is essential to end this suffering,” with the involvement not only of the US and Russia but also Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey. 

‘Psychological scars’ 

Nevertheless, the Syrian crisis is “first and foremost a protection crisis” and Maurer demanded that the rules of war be respected. 

“We all need to keep helping [Syrians] to deal with the psychological scars of this conflict. We will continue to engage with Syrian authorities to address the needs of families whose relatives have gone missing, to help improve the treatment of detainees and their conditions, and to reach civilians trapped in the fighting.” 

On his fifth trip to Syria as ICRC president, Maurer met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and discussed various issues including access to hard-to-reach areas, visitation rights of prisoners, respect of humanitarian law, and cooperation with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC). 

“Together with the SARC, we are ready to boost our neutral humanitarian operations, we are ready to increase the delivery of vital aid. But access is absolutely critical. We cannot help people we cannot reach,” he said.

swissinfo.ch and agencies/ts

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