The number of Syrians fleeing their homes because of fighting is growing “on a daily basis”, the Red Cross warned on Tuesday, following a distress call from UN envoy Kofi Annan that the country is on the brink of civil war.
REUTERS - More and more Syrian civilians are being forced to flee their homes to escape fighting between government troops and rebels, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Friday.
Sick or wounded people are also finding it difficult to reach medical services while food, especially bread, is becoming more scarce, according to the humanitarian agency, the only international organisation deploying aid workers in Syria.
AP - Annan said on Friday that preliminary discussions are taking place about establishing a “contact group” comprising countries that could influence both sides in the Syrian conflict to end the violence. The group would likely comprise world and regional powers, including Iran.
“If they could come together and look at the problems in a coldly realistic manner ... and say let’s cooperate and suggest a roadmap for the Syrians to consider and work really to steer everybody in the same direction ... we may make progress,” Annan said.
The ICRC reiterated its assessment that civil war - what it calls non-international armed conflict - has erupted in some areas at times, including Homs earlier this year.
“The ICRC has clearly said that in certain parts of the country at certain moments, it is a non-international armed conflict, which means that certain rules of international humanitarian law regarding the treatment of civilians and detainees must be applied,” ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan told a news briefing in Geneva.
“Currently the situation is extremely tense not only in Houla, not only in Hama, but in many, many places around the country,” he said, referring to sites of recent massacres of civilians.
He cited clashes in Idlib, rural Idlib, rural Damascus, and Hama and to a lesser extent rural Aleppo, Deraa in the south, Deir-al-Zor in the northeast and Latakia in the coastal area.
“This leads simply to the fact people are still being displaced on a daily basis,” Hassan said.
The ICRC, working alongside the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, has provided food rations and medical supplies to 400,000 of the 1.5 million people whom it estimates are directly or indirectly affected by the conflict and drought in the northeast, he said.
It aims to assist 100,0000 people every month and currently has access to “almost everywhere” in Syria, he said.
“We’re receiving regularly reports from people facing more and more difficulty in access to essential medical services, and this has increased, to medical treatment, and to food, including bread,” he said.
Many displaced are staying in schools, mosques and churches, but much infrastructure including water systems need urgent repair, Hassan said.
In the past few days, its teams have revisited the battered Baba Amro district of Homs, as well as villages near Houla, where it also provided health care to 250 people after a massacre of 108 people on May 25, he said.
Witnesses have told U.N. investigators that most victims died in summary executions carried out by “shabbiha” militiamen loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian government has blamed Islamist militants for the killings.
Hassan said that many of the 5,000 people who fled the village of Taldaou in Houla for Bourj al-Qu’i told ICRC workers that they feared for men left behind and that their property had been looted or destroyed.
Volunteers from the Syrian Red Crescent branch in Hama were also trying to reach the village of Mazraat al-Qubeir, where opposition activists said 78 people were shot, stabbed, or burned to death this week.
U.N. monitors seeking to reach the site of a reported massacre in Syria sent reinforcements to the area on Friday, after they were turned back and shot at a day earlier.