ICRC seeking to clinch humanitarian truce in Syria

Assad forces kill 19 in Homs, including 2 journalists; Syrian troops raid northern villages, killing 27; US hints at arming rebels.

By REUTERS
February 22, 2012 16:28
3 minute read.
Kellenberger President of the ICRC

Kellenberger President of the ICRC. (photo credit: Dennis Balibouse/Reuters)

 
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The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Wednesday it was pursuing contact with anyone wielding "influence" in Syria to clinch an immediate ceasefire to enable life-saving aid to reach civilians trapped by fighting.

ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger was due to hold talks later in the day in Geneva with Basma Kodmani, a senior official of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC).

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The independent aid agency appealed to Syrian authorities and rebels on Tuesday to agree a two-hour truce each day to allow supplies to reach civilians and evacuate the growing number of wounded in the besieged city of Homs and elsewhere.

"The situation is difficult and we are worried it is deteriorating," ICRC chief spokeswoman Carla Haddad told Reuters TV on Wednesday. "Everybody is focused on Homs but we shouldn't turn a blind eye to what is happening in other areas.

"We're trying to discuss and reach out to all those concerned. So on one hand the Syrian authorities, but also we've used this public appeal to reach out to the different members of the opposition, because we have talked to the opposition abroad, outside of Syria, but we need to be able to establish a dialogue with the opposition within Syria. And this is done by this public appeal. We haven't managed to do that yet on the spot.

"The ICRC is keen to reach out to different members of the opposition including the SNC," Haddad continued. "The whole point is to have a dialogue with those who can influence the situation on the ground."

Asked when a deal might be clinched, Haddad replied: "It is difficult to predict and speculate but the urgency of the situation would require an immediate halt to the fighting."

The ICRC is the only international agency deploying aid workers in Syria, delivering food, water and medical supplies across a country where the United Nations has been shut out.

Meanwhile, at least 19 people were killed Wednesday when Syrian troops shelled the rebel-held Baba Amro district of the city of Homs, activists said.

Baba Amro has been under sustained bombardment since February 3. Several hundred people have been killed, activists said.

Earlier on Wednesday, troops and militiamen loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad chased, captured and then shot dead 27 young men in three northern villages, an opposition activists' group said.

The men, all civilians, were mostly shot in the head or chest on Tuesday in their homes or in streets in the villages of Idita, Iblin and Balshon in Idlib province near the border with Turkey, the Syrian Network for Human Rights said.

"Military forces chased civilians in these villages, arrested them and killed them without hesitation. They concentrated on male youths and whoever did not manage to escape was to be killed," the organization said in a statement.

"Responsibility for this massacre lies with the general commander of the military and armed forces, Bashar Assad," the statement said, adding that only one youth survived the shootings.

YouTube videos said to have been taken by local activists in Idlib showed bodies of young men with bullet wounds lying in streets and in houses.

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Also Wednesday, two Western journalists were killed in the besieged Syrian city of Homs when shells hit the house they were staying in, opposition activists and witnesses said.

They were named as Marie Colvin, an American working for Britain's Sunday Times newspaper, and French photgrapher Remi Ochlik.

A witness told Reuters by phone that shells hit the house where the journalists were staying and a rocket hit them as they were escaping.

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