Red Cross Chief Visits Syria as Violence Continues

Red Cross chief Peter Maurer urges Assad to respect international humanitarian law and let the ICRC provide aid.

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Elad Benari,

Assad meets ICRC President Peter Maurer in Da
Assad meets ICRC President Peter Maurer in Da

Red Cross chief Peter Maurer launched a mission in Syria to seek greater protection for civilians on Tuesday, as activists said rebel-held areas of besieged Aleppo faced severe food shortages.

AFP reported that Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, met President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus and expressed concern over the humanitarian situation in the country.

ICRC spokesman Hisham Hassan told AFP that in a 45-minute meeting, Maurer urged respect for international humanitarian law and stressed the need to ensure the ICRC could swiftly provide aid such as medical supplies and equipment to restore damaged water infrastructure.

State television said Assad had assured Maurer that he supported the work of the Red Cross in Syria “as long as it remains impartial and independent.”

Maurer was in Damascus for his first visit to Syria since taking over the post on July 1. He also met with Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, AFP noted.

His visit came amid a recent surge in violence across Syria, where according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights more than 5,000 people were killed in the month of August alone.

The new UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi described the death toll there as "staggering" and destruction wrought by the conflict as "catastrophic" in comments to the UN General Assembly in New York Tuesday.

On Monday Brahimi said that he is deeply pessimistic at his chances of restoring calm to the war-torn country.

“I know how difficult it is - how nearly impossible. I can’t say impossible - nearly impossible,” Brahimi, an Algerian diplomat said in an interview with the BBC. “And we are not doing much. That in itself is a terrible weight.”

The Britain-based Observatory, which relies on its information from a network of activists on the ground, said at least 113 people, 81 of them civilians, were killed across Syria on Tuesday.

Regime helicopters opened fire over Aleppo's Old City and the flashpoint district of Saif al-Dawla, AFP reported, as sporadic shelling of residential areas of Syria's second city killed at least seven people, according to hospital records.

Shelling had also damaged the domed roof of a historic bathhouse in the Old City, the Al-Kawas which was built in 1392 during the Mamluk period.

In contrast, life returned to the streets of central Aleppo after advances by regime forces, AFP reported. Shops opened for business and residents went about their errands in the centre of the northern city.