Syrian president pledges to allow the Red Cross to expand its humanitarian operations

Tuesday 04 September 2012 23.40
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President Bashar al-Assad met the new ICRC chief
President Bashar al-Assad met the new ICRC chief
Peter Maurer also met Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Miqdad
Peter Maurer also met Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Miqdad

The new president of the International Committee of the Red Cross has met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to discuss humanitarian access for civilians.

ICRC chief Peter Maurer held 45 minutes of talks with the president.

They discussed improving the delivery of aid to civilians as well as the resuming prison visits that have stalled since May.

Mr Maurer stressed the need for the wounded to have quick access to healthcare.

He also urged that the imports of medical supplies, food and equipment for repairing water supply systems happen quickly.

Syrian television quoted Mr Assad as telling Mr Maurer that Syria "welcomes the work which the committee (ICRC) carries out on Syrian territory, as long as it is carried out in an independent and neutral way".

Mr Maurer also said he would also continue efforts to gain access for his agency to Syria's detention centres.

He is on a three-day visit to the country and also met Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Miqdad.

Rights groups say that tens of thousands of people rounded up during the 17-month-old conflict, including teenagers, are being detained.

The agency has not been able to send out any aid convoys for more than two weeks.

Late last week, it sent food rations and other relief supplies to rural Damascus and Homs for distribution by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

The ICRC said that tens of thousands of civilians have been forced to flee fighting in recent weeks and increasing numbers of wounded are dying due to a lack of medical care or supplies.

Former soldier reserves fail to report for duty

Elsewhere, the Syrian government is calling up former soldiers from the reserves to active army service in growing numbers.

Several fleeing reservists and a serving army officer said that thousands of men had been called up in the past two months to bolster the 300,000 strong army and many of them are failing to report for duty.

One army officer contacted in Homs said he believed that only half of those called up in recent months had reported for duty.

The officer said many units had suffered heavy losses battling rebels.

Most Syrian men are required to serve in the army for two years when they turn 18 or after finishing university.

After a man has served, he remains in the reserves and can be called up for active duty.

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