Aid agency Concern urges solution over Syrian conflict

Tuesday 21 January 2014 20.14
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Hallum Al-Amin, a Syrian refugee, who is believed to be 100 years old, sits with members of her family in the Lebanese town of Tyre
Hallum Al-Amin, a Syrian refugee, who is believed to be 100 years old, sits with members of her family in the Lebanese town of Tyre
The body of a victim killed in an air raid on Aleppo is pulled from the rubble of a collapsed building
The body of a victim killed in an air raid on Aleppo is pulled from the rubble of a collapsed building
UNRWA staff members unload food packages at the besieged Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus
UNRWA staff members unload food packages at the besieged Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus
The Geneva II conference is due to begin tomorrow
The Geneva II conference is due to begin tomorrow

Irish aid agency Concern has said a solution to the Syrian crisis must be found urgently, as the civilian population will not survive another year of trauma and human rights abuses.

CEO Dominic McSorley said that human rights abuses were taking place "on a daily and hourly basis" and women and children in particular were experiencing severe levels of trauma.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr McSorley said that the peace talks to take place in Geneva at the end of the week represent the first opportunity to end the conflict.

He said aid agencies were struggling to cope with the 2.5 million refugees who have fled the country, and the population of nine million within the country.

"Every day that goes on, every month that passes, we're just digging deeper into the destruction of a nation in terms of health education and welfare. So the stakes are extraordinarily high."

He said the focus of the talks needed to be on ending hostilities immediately, so that aid agencies could get access to the massive numbers caught up in the war.

He said that international pressure had worked before to get aid through, and it needed to be applied again.

Mr McSorley said Concern had only been able to get access to a town in which it is trying to provide water twice in the past month.

In another town where Concern is working, 24 people were killed in the past week.

Yesterday, a team of international war-crimes prosecutors and forensic scientists said it has seen direct evidence of the systematic torture and execution of 11,000 detainees in Syrian government facilities.

The team was commissioned to examine the evidence, provided by a former Syrian military photographer who has defected, by the government of Qatar which supports the Syrian rebels.

One of its members, former chief prosecutor at the special court for Sierra Leone Sir Desmond de Silva, said the pictures pointed to killing on an industrial scale.

The inquiry team examined the evidence and interviewed the source in three sessions in the last ten days. They found him credible, the Guardian newspaper said.

Air strike on Aleppo kills 10

A government air strike killed 10 people in a rebel-held neighbourhood of Syria's main northern city Aleppo.

Warplanes also targeted the Ansari neighbourhood farther east.

Withdrawal of Iranian invitation 'mistake' - Russia

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it was a mistake for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to withdraw an invitation to Iran to attend the peace talks on Syria.

"It is, of course, a mistake ... But it isn't a catastrophe," Mr Lavrov told a news conference in Moscow.

He said Moscow stood by its position that all interested parties should be involved in the conference on ending almost three years of civil war.

"The absence of Iran will not contribute to efforts to ensure the unity of the Muslim world, including in fighting terrorism, which is a threat to all of us and all Muslims as well," Mr Lavrov said.

He added: "I just feel sorry that the events have not increased the authority of the United Nations."

Mr Ban withdrew the last-minute invitation to Iran after the Syrian opposition threatened to boycott this week's conference if President Bashar al-Assad's main sponsor took part.

The opposition immediately withdrew its threat to stay away from the conference, known as Geneva II.

Western diplomats are hopeful the talks could now provide some start to easing the conflict that has killed over 130,000 Syrians.

"We are hopeful that, in the wake of today's announcement, all parties can now return to focus on the task at hand, which is bringing an end to the suffering of the Syrian people and beginning a process toward a long-overdue political transition," US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.