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Syria crisis Swiss discuss humanitarian issues with Assad regime

Syrians huddle in a lorry near the Turkish border to protect themselves against the cold on February 6

(Keystone)

For three years Switzerland has been dealing directly with the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad concerning the humanitarian situation in the war-ravaged country. This access is unique, according to Yves Rossier, state secretary of the foreign ministry. 

“We’re the only ones,” Rossier told Swiss public radio, SRF, on Tuesday. He added that Switzerland’s involvement was “greatly appreciated by the other parties”. 

Rossier explained that before each of the diplomatic meetings, the Swiss would sit down with the large international aid organisations and make “a sort of shopping list”. 

He said the Syrian regime had been very distrustful of these discussions. “It needed time. During the first year it was very, very difficult.” 

Regarding the humanitarian efforts, Rossier said it was a question of concrete improvements in working conditions, for example having significantly more visas for humanitarian staff in Syria and being able to cross the checkpoints more easily. 

He stressed that Switzerland wanted to keep this a non-political relationship. “The relationship of trust with the humanitarian arm of the Syrian regime is important,” he said. 

Besieged areas 

More than one million Syrians are trapped in besieged areas, a new report says. This challenges the United Nations, which estimates just half that amount and has been accused by some aid groups of underplaying a crisis. 

The new Siege Watch report, issued on Tuesday by the Netherlands-based aid group PAX and the Washington-based Syria Institute, comes a month after images posted online of emaciated children and adults led to an international outcry and rare convoys of aid to a handful of Syrian communities. 

The Siege Watch report says 1.09 million people are living in 46 besieged communities in Syria, far more than the 18 listed by the UN. It says most are besieged by the Syrian government in the suburbs of Damascus, the capital, and Homs. 

The estimates are based largely on information provided by local contacts in the communities, including local councils, medical workers and citizen journalists. 

The fate of Syria’s besieged is at the heart of peace talks that quickly fell apart last week in Geneva and are set to resume by February 25. Negotiators for the opposition had insisted that the Syrian government stop besieging civilians before talks could truly begin. 

The United Nations places an estimated 4.5 million Syrians into a separate category called “hard to reach”, a step below besieged. It defines that as “an area that is not regularly accessible to humanitarian actors for the purpose of sustained humanitarian programming as a result of denial of access”.

swissinfo.ch and agencies


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