LONDON (AlertNet) - Red Cross and Red Crescent aid workers hope to deliver supplies of emergency relief next week to two cities in Syria where weeks of pro-democracy protests have led to a military crackdown.
Marianne Gasser, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegation in Damascus, said permission to visit Homs and the coastal city of Banias with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent had been granted by the Syrian authorities.
"I hope by early next week, we will be able to at least visit Homs and Banias," Gasser told AlertNet by telephone from Damascus.
The two cities have emerged as centres of dissent against President Bashar al-Assad's 11-year rule.
Gasser said Red Crescent workers planned to deliver food, baby milk and first aid supplies to the cities.
Last week, a team of experts from the ICRC, the Syrian Red Crescent and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) accompanied a convoy of trucks carrying drinking water, food and medical dressings to the southern city of Deraa, where protests calling for more freedoms and later, for the overthrow of Assad, began in March.
She said some people in Deraa, who are subject to curfew, were "very keen" to receive the supplies of food and baby milk the team had brought.
The lack of baby milk and medicine for chronic diseases were problems raised by residents and Red Crescent volunteers living in Deraa during the ICRC's brief visit to the city on May 5, Gasser noted.
"That's why it was very important for us to go back," she said, adding that Red Crescent workers returned to Deraa on Wednesday to distribute more food parcels and milk.
The ICRC and the Red Crescent's planned visit to Homs and Banias comes at a time when the United Nations is struggling to gain humanitarian access to Syrian cities where the military is trying to crush anti-government protests.
Valerie Amos, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said on Tuesday she was worried about the inability to reach Latakia, Jablah, Banias and Douma, as well as Deraa, where the protests have been most extensive.
Gasser said the ICRC's authorisation to visit some cities was due in part to the positive image in Syria of the national Red Crescent team, with which the ICRC is working closely.
"The authorities granted us access, but it is also thanks to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent which is very strong here," she said. "Since the beginning, we've been coordinating closely with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and also we have cooperating with the ministry of health."