Tue, Sep 04, 2012 - Page 1 News List

Bombings, fighting as Red Cross head departs for Syria


Red Cross president Peter Maurer was yesterday headed to Syria on a humanitarian mission, his office said, as an air strike on a northern rebel stronghold killed 18 people and a car bomb rocked a Damascus suburb.

Also lining up for a visit to the violence-wracked country was new UN-Arab League peace envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, who has openly admitted that his mission is “nearly impossible.”

The high-profile visits come as violence escalates in Syrian flashpoints and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported more than 5,000 people, mainly civilians, killed last month alone.

Maurer, the new head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), was travelling to Damascus yesterday for a three-day visit and was set to meet Syrian President Bashar al-Assad today, his office said.

The visit is Maurer’s first to Syria since he took up his duties as president on July 1, the ICRC said in a statement.

During his visit, Maurer would meet al-Assad, as well as Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and several other ministers “to discuss pressing humanitarian issues,” it added.

“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,” Maurer said in the statement.

Jihad Makdissi, a spokesman for al-Assad’s embattled government, late on Sunday announced that newly appointed peace envoy Brahimi would “soon” travel to Damascus, expressing confidence that “he will listen to us.”

He gave no idea of when the visit would begin.

Brahimi, however, gave a deeply pessimistic view of the task ahead of him, in an interview with the BBC.

“I know how difficult it is — how nearly impossible. I can’t say impossible — [it is] nearly impossible,” he said.

He said he was “scared of the weight of responsibility. People are already saying: ‘People are dying and what are you doing?’”

Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoabi told journalists in Damascus yesterday that Brahimi’s success depends on states such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

“The success of Lakhdar Brahimi does not depend on Syria,” Zoabi said.

“Brahimi’s success depends on certain states — such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey — respecting his mission, by closing their borders to armed men and by ceasing to provide weapons,” he added.

On the war front, an air strike by a Syrian fighter jet on a building in the northern rebel-held town of al-Bab in Aleppo Province killed at least 10 men, six women and two children, the Britain-based Observatory said.

“The victims included two children, a girl and a boy,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said. “They died when the fighter jet bombed the building where they were sheltered.”

The army also pounded several districts of Aleppo, the Observatory said, more than six weeks after the start of what al-Assad’s regime warned would be “the mother of all battles” in Syria’s commercial hub.

The air strike on al-Bab followed a series of attacks on towns and villages in the Aleppo countryside, as regime forces fight to break rebel supply lines.

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