News

Red Cross tries to negotiate a ceasefire in Syria

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e1351 (Published 23 February 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e1351
  1. Anne Gulland
  1. 1London

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is attempting to negotiate a temporary ceasefire with the authorities in Syria so that it can deliver essential humanitarian supplies.

The fighting in certain parts of the country has become more intense in recent weeks, and organisations including the United Nations have reported that hospitals are being targeted by the military. According to news reports 16 people in the city of Homs were reported to have died on Tuesday after the government shelled the city.

The ICRC is already working in the country but says that certain areas are short of essential medical supplies and food.

Saleh Dabbekah, spokesman for the organisation in the capital, Damascus, said that the committee was in bilateral talks with the Syrian government and other actors but that he could not go into detail about the confidential negotiations.

“The ICRC is exploring several possibilities to make it possible to deliver humanitarian aid in some areas in Syria. These possibilities include a cessation of fighting in the most affected areas to facilitate quick access to people in need,” he said.

Mr Dabbekah said that Red Cross volunteers had continued to work throughout the uprising, even in the city of Homs, which has seen some of the heaviest fighting.

“We haven’t really stopped delivering humanitarian assistance to these areas. However, since last Sunday volunteers have only been able to deliver aid to four different points in the city. Normally they would visit nine points,” he said.

Mr Dabbekah said a ceasefire for two hours a day would allow the Red Cross to deliver medical aid such as medicines and bandages, food assistance, blankets, and other essential supplies such as nappies.

A spokesman for the ICRC in Geneva told a Canadian news station that Red Cross volunteers had been into Homs about 25 times in the last month, which was not enough.

Mr Dabbekah said that the fighting was localised and that in many parts of Syria life was carrying on as normal.

“However, in some towns the humanitarian situation is very difficult and living conditions are very hard. We need to be able to deliver assistance there,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Médecins Sans Frontières, which has been outspoken on human rights violations in Syria, welcomed talks on a ceasefire. “The humanitarian situation on the ground seems extremely difficult and we have, until now, not been able to bring in anything like the amount of medical and humanitarian supplies required,” she said.

Earlier this month Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner on human rights, listed a series of violations relating to hospitals and medical care and said that the humanitarian situation in the whole of Syria was getting worse.

“Hospitals have been used as detention and torture facilities. Ambulances have come under fire, and many of the injured and sick have been turned away from public hospitals in several cities. Wounded detainees have been subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment in military hospitals. Evidence gathered indicates that doctors and medical workers have been pursued, arrested, and tortured by the security forces.”

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e1351