Red Cross presses Syrian opposing forces over humanitarian ceasefire

Wed, Feb 22, 2012, 00:00

THE INTERNATIONAL Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)yesterday stepped up pressure on the Syrian government and rebel forces to agree to a daily two-hour halt to hostilities so emergency services could deliver aid to wounded or ailing civilians in contested areas.

Red Cross president Jakob Kellenberger said the situation “requires an immediate decision to implement a humanitarian pause in the fighting.”

He observed that in besieged quarters of Homs “entire families have been stuck for days in their homes, unable to step outside to get bread, other food or water, or to obtain medical care”.

While ICRC contacts with the parties concerned remained “confidential,” Al-Jazeera said that at least one rebel group in Homs had not been approached and opposed ceasefires on the ground they would favour government forces.

In Homs, opposition activists reported the army had shelled rebel-held Bab Amr. Khaldiya and Karm Zeytoun were also said to have been targeted.

However, the expected ground offensive aimed at retaking districts has not yet been launched. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 16 people had been killed in Homs and another 11 elsewhere. The toll could not be verified.

In the northern province of Aleppo, which has remained largely quiet during 11 months of unrest, the Syrian news agency Sana said Mahmoud Ramadan, a businessman, was shot dead by gunmen outside his home.

This would seem to be another attempt to intimidate members of the commercial community who still support the regime. Doctors and army officers have also been targeted.

Overnight, activists said protesters blocked roads leading to Baramkeh Square in downtown Damascus and demonstrated near air force intelligence headquarters, rocketed last November.

Meanwhile, Syrians in quiet neighbourhoods across the country have gathered over the past three evenings to discuss the new constitution on which they are expected to vote in a referendum on Sunday.

A participant in a meeting at a hall near the archaeological museum said three experts were on hand to answer questions and debate was vigorous.

“This would not have happened a year ago,” she said.“Television and radio have carried non-stop discussion of the document.”

A small demonstration took place outside parliament protesting article three of the text which specifies that the religion of the president should be Islam.

Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said Moscow would not attend Friday’s “Friends of Syria” gathering in Tunis because the Syrian government had not been invited to send representatives to discuss the situation with senior US, EU and Arab figures.

He observed that the meeting, to which only the opposition has been asked, would hear the views of only a part of the Syrian people. “It looks like an attempt to forge some kind of international coalition” like the ‘contact group’ for Libya.

Two Iranian naval vessels, a destroyer and supply ship, left the Syrian port of Tartous and crossed into the Red Sea via the Suez Canal, their mission is a mystery.