Assad tells Red Cross chief to stay "neutral"

Published September 4th, 2012 - 11:57 GMT

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Tuesday his country is supporting the work of the International Red Cross as long as it remained "neutral." He made this comment while receiving the head the the international organization in of Damascus. He came to meet the Syrian leader in order to ask for better access to hundreds of thousands of people affected by the internal conflict.

At the meeting in Damascus, Bashar al-Assad told the new ICRC president Peter Maurer that he "welcomed the humanitarian operations conducted by the Committee on the ground as long as they remained independent and neutral,"according to the official media .

Peter Maurer, on his part, welcomed "the willing for cooperation by the Syrian government" and the willing to establish trust between Damascus and the organization, according to the official SANA news agency. The meeting focused on "establishing mechanisms to strengthen this cooperation."

The head of the ICRC arrived in Damascus Monday for his first visit since his appointment on July 1. According to the ICRC, he was to meet with other senior Syrian officials.

The visit will last until Thursday.

Since the beginning of the year, the ICRC and the Syrian Red Crescent have distributed aid to more than 800,000 people, mostly displaced, and assured supply of drinking water in sufficient quantities to over a million of people.
But since then, the situation has worsened and the number of people needing assistance has increased.

On the ground, fighting between troops and rebels continued on several fronts, including Aleppo, Hama, Homs, Idlib, Deraa and Damascus, according to activists. At least 36 people, 17 civilians, 12 soldiers and 7 rebels were killed in the violence, according to a preliminary assessment by the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights (SOHR), after a bloody day which saw the death of 153 people, mostly civilians.

Besides the dozens of dead every day, more than 100,000 Syrians fled the country in August to take refuge in neighboring countries, "the highest monthly figure since the beginning of the conflict" in March 2011, announced the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva. In total, since the beginning of the crisis, some 235,000 Syrians have left Syria and 1.2 million have been displaced inside the country. They stay in public buildings, mainly schools.

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