In Syria, Aid Groups Look for Breaks in Fighting to Deliver Supplies

BY Larisa Epatko  March 1, 2012 at 10:22 AM EST


Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers set up an aid station in a mosque in Homs, Syria. Photo by I. Malla/Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

As the International Committee of the Red Cross’ appeal for a daily two-hour ceasefire in the most volatile parts of Syria goes unanswered, the local volunteers and staff of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent continue to try to bring much-needed supplies to the bombarded areas.

Syrian security forces are trying to squelch anti-government uprisings, centered in the western city of Homs and northwestern province of Idlib, by bombing buildings and using snipers. Though it is difficult to confirm the number of deaths, the United Nations estimates that at least 7,500 civilians have been killed since the crackdown on protesters began nearly a year ago.

Bijan Farnoudi, a spokesman in Geneva for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said that even though the Syrian government and a fractured opposition have not responded to the group’s ceasefire demand, the aid organization still manages to deliver supplies during breaks in the fighting with the help of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

Without a clear window to move supplies, aid workers get recommendations from fighters and use their own security assessments to decide whether to go into conflict areas to deliver food, hygiene kits, medical supplies and blankets, Farnoudi said.

It’s a “humanitarian situation that’s deteriorating constantly,” he said, adding that basic goods are lacking, and even when supplies are available, people don’t have access to them because they’re afraid to leave their homes.

The aid organizations’ efforts have not gone without injury. The secretary general of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, Abdulrazaq Jbeiro, was shot and killed last month while driving back to Idlib after participating in meetings in the capital Damascus, and a volunteer also died in the line of duty.

Though the International Committee of the Red Cross has worked in Syria for 40 years and has “a dialogue” with the Syrian government, “we’re not yet satisfied with the access we have at this point,” Farnoudi said.

The group is also reaching out to the opposition and has managed to talk to some members inside and outside Syria, but part of the reason the aid agency went public with its ceasefire demand was to try to get all members of the opposition on board, he added.

In addition, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent is working to evacuate the wounded, but some people have refused to go with them, fearing they are connected to the Syrian government. “You can understand people might be scared that they’re going from one tough spot to another,” Farnoudi said. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent, like the International Committee of the Red Cross, is a neutral organization.

As a precautionary measure, both organizations register anyone they evacuate from a conflict zone to a medical facility in a safer area and try to follow up with them later to see how they are faring, Farnoudi added.

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