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ICRC sees Syria conflict dragging on for months

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Mon, 5 Mar 2012 12:03 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Senior ICRC official says Syria still blocking access to Baba Amro

* Says negotiations continue with Syrian army and government

* Fears conflict will drag on for 'several months or even longer'

* Civilians will pay the price of prolonged fighting

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA, March 5 (Reuters) - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Monday that Syrian authorities were still blocking its access to the battered Homs district of Baba Amro and that it feared the conflict in Syria would rage on for months.

Yves Daccord, ICRC director-general, voiced concern for the fate of civilians still trapped in freezing temperatures in Baba Amro in need of food, water and medical care and said negotiations continued with the military and government.

"At the moment we are blocked by the Syrian army and government," Daccord said in an interview with Swiss Radio and Television (RTS).

"We hope to get in to Baba Amro today (Monday), we have to be firm and not give up. The negotiations are being led on site in Homs with military commanders and also in Damascus," he said.

But sometimes there was a gap between "the reality of combat" and the situation which authorities in the capital described to the independent aid agency, he said.

Referring to Baba Amro, he said: "The situation is extremely difficult, the weather conditions are tragic. It is very cold, there is fighting and people don't have access to food or water, and above all there is a big problem of evacuating the wounded."

Teams from the Red Cross and Syrian Arab Red Crescent managed to distribute food and medical aid on Sunday in a village near Homs but were shut out for a third day from Baba Amro.

There have been reports of bloody reprisals by state forces who took back the former rebel bastion last Thursday.

Daccord, asked about the reports of executions committed in Baba Amro and whether there might be a parallel to the slaughter in the Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica in the mid-1990s, replied:

"I would always be careful not to mix up situations, it is always very complicated to compare countries and situations. But it is true that what we see today in Syria worries us very much.

"Our concern is of course linked to what you can hear and sees in Homs, but above all related to the fact that unfortunately I fear we will be faced with this conflict or let's say a situation of fighting that risks lasting for several months or even longer...and it is the civilian population who will really pay the price."

The ICRC is still pressing for a daily two-hour humanitarian ceasefire across Syria, an initiative it launched two weeks ago with both the Syrian government and opposition forces, he said.

"Two hours is not very long but it is essential for the population simply to get access to the medicines they need, in order to rescue the wounded and to help them," Daccord said.

"Homs is not the only place at stake, there are other places in Syria that are problematic," he said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay)

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