ICRC head Jakob Kellenberger
ICRC head Jakob KellenbergerReuters

The International Committee of the Red Cross has signed a deal with the Syrian government to expand its humanitarian mission to Syrian citizens.

ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger announced Thursday the organization managed to secure permission from Damascus to visit prisoners held by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad since September.

Kellenberger made the announcement in a statement following his two day visit to the Syrian capital.

The organization will also be permitted to demand temporary ceasefires in combat zones in order to allow evacuation of those who are wounded, and the delivery of aid.

The ICRC president added that the agreement means the Red Cross must move quickly to set up its human resources and logistical capacity in the war-torn nation.

Just as the Red Cross chief was leaving Damascus after having completed its agreement with the Assad regime, an advance peacekeeping mission was arriving from the United Nations to negotiate the deployment of an unarmed U.N. observer force.

A spokesman for U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan told reporters Thursday that U.N. Member states are already being asked to contribute up to 250 soldiers each to the force, which will monitor Annan's proposed U.N.-backed ceasefire agreement.