The humanitarian situation in Syria is likely get worse, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Monday, underlining the need for “urgent measures” to ease the effects of a year of bloodshed. Jakob Kellenberger came to Moscow to ask Russia to help persuade the Syrian government to allow more access for humanitarian aid to Syrians trapped in zones of fighting.
Meanwhile, joint team of experts from the United Nations and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), led by the Syrian government, have started a mission to assess humanitarian needs across the country, a source close the mission said on Monday.
The group is due to visit areas hit by the uprising including the city of Homs, scene of a month-long siege and military bombardment in February, and Deraa, where the revolt against Assad erupted a year ago.
The ICRC has been pushing for daily two-hour cease-fires between government forces and insurgents to allow for relief delivery and medical evacuations.
Russia's close ties with Syria make it one of the few countries left with any leverage over President Bashar al-Assad. But Moscow is increasingly isolated in its support for the Damascus government, whose forces have killed more than 8,000 people in a year of violence, according to the United Nations.
“Our assessment, unfortunately, is that the humanitarian situation is most likely to deteriorate,” Kellenberger told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the start of talks.
Kellenberger said he wanted to share the organization's assessment and “our convictions about what are the most urgent measures to be taken in the humanitarian field.”
Moscow, with China, has shielded Assad by vetoing two UN Security Council resolutions condemning his government and has continued delivering arms to Syria under contracts, but has expressed support for international humanitarian aid efforts.
In a rare show of unity with Western powers, Russia and China joined other UN Security Council members on March 1 in expressing “deep disappointment” at Syria's failure to allow UN humanitarian aid chief Valerie Amos to visit the country and said she be allowed in immediately.
Amos has since been allowed to enter Syria, but has called for unhindered access for humanitarian aid.
The ICRC and Syrian Arab Red Crescent have managed to reach some areas affected by the fighting, providing thousands of people with food, medicines and other essential items, but Kellenberger said much more access was needed.
“A daily cessation in the fighting for a period of at least two hours remains essential in order for emergency medical evacuations to take place safely and for aid to reach vulnerable people swiftly,” he said in a statement on Sunday.
“The ICRC is asking for an unambiguous commitment from all concerned to these breaks in the fighting.”