New Red Cross head to meet Assad
The new head of the Red Cross will urge Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to improve humanitarian access to civilians in the war-torn country during a visit to Syria that begins today.
Peter Maurer said he would also continue efforts to gain access for his agency to Syria's detention centres - which rights groups say hold tens of thousands of people rounded up during the 17-month-old conflict, including teenagers.
"At a time when more and more civilians are being exposed to extreme violence, it is of the utmost importance that we and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent succeed in significantly scaling up our humanitarian response," he said in a statement.
"An adequate humanitarian response is required to keep pace with needs, which have been growing exponentially," added Mr Maurer, who took over as president of the independent organisation from Jakob Kellenberger on July 1st.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has 50 foreign and Syrian aid workers in Syria, but all have been confined to Damascus since late July due to heavy fighting in what it has said has become an internal armed conflict, or civil war in layman's terms.
The agency was not able to send out any aid convoys for more than two weeks, but did manage late last week to send some food rations and other relief supplies to rural Damascus and Homs for distribution by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, the ICRC said.
Mr Maurer, a former senior Swiss diplomat, will meet Dr Assad and senior officials in Damascus during the three-day trip, the statement said.
"Talks will mainly tackle the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation and the difficulties faced by the ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent as they attempt to reach people affected by the armed conflict," it said.
The new UN and Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said diplomatic attempts to end the conflict are "nearly impossible" and that not enough is being done to end the fighting.
"I know how difficult it is - how nearly impossible. I can't say impossible - nearly impossible," Mr Brahimi, an Algerian diplomat, told the BBC. "And we are not doing much. That in itself is a terrible weight."
Mr Brahimi replaced Kofi Annan as the United Nations and Arab League joint special representative on Syria at the end of August. Mr Annan stepped down after blaming "finger-pointing and name-calling" at the UN security council for hampering efforts to find a breakthrough in the conflict.
Around 20,000 people have been killed during a 17-month uprising against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Mr Brahimi said he was "scared of the weight of responsibility" on his shoulders and was aware that not enough is being done to end the violence through diplomacy.
"People are already saying 'People are dying and what are you doing?' And we are not doing much. That in itself is a terrible weight," he told the BBC in an interview conducted in English.
Mr Brahimi said he felt like he was "standing in front of a brick wall", looking for cracks that may yield a solution. "I'm coming into this job with my eyes open, and [with] no illusions," he said.
Elsewhere, thousands of Syrian refugees are stuck on the Turkish border while the authorities struggle to process a growing influx that could be swelled further by Syrian air and ground bombardment of a nearby town.
Syrian opposition activists said some 10,000 refugees had been stranded for a week on the Syrian side of the frontier adjacent to the southeastern Turkish province of Kilis, the main route into Turkey from the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.
A Syrian jet bombed the town of Azaz, 3km from the border, early this morning prompting some of those who had not already fled to leave a Reuters witness said.
Azaz is notionally rebel-held but often comes under artillery fire at night from a nearby military airport. Half the population of around 70,000 has already fled, residents say.