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Syria: Intense fighting hampers evacuation of dead and wounded

06-05-2013 Operational Update

As the fighting continues to rage across different parts of Syria, causing hundreds of casualties every day, the timely evacuation of the dead and the wounded is becoming a daily challenge in the areas hardest hit.

"The manner in which the parties to the conflict in Syria are conducting hostilities remains alarming for us," said Magne Barth, head of the ICRC delegation in Syria. "Little regard is being paid to the population as the hostilities intensify. Attacks are causing a very high number of casualties amongst civilians. We strongly urge all sides involved in the fighting to take immediate action to fully comply with international humanitarian law."

The rules and principles of international humanitarian law apply to all parties to the armed conflict in Syria, and impose restrictions on the means and methods of warfare that they may use. The ICRC has repeatedly reminded the parties that they must at all times distinguish between civilians and persons directly participating in the fighting.

With the escalation of the fighting, an increasing number of casualties are being left behind owing to the life-threatening risks associated with the retrieval of the wounded and the dead.

International humanitarian law requires that dead bodies be treated properly and with respect. The parties to the conflict must take all feasible measures to evacuate the dead and the wounded without delay. “In Syria, the reality on the ground does not reflect these obligations,” deplored Mr Barth. “We therefore continue to call on the conflict parties to spare civilians and permit them to be withdrawn to safety, and to allow the wounded to be evacuated and dead bodies to be recovered.”

Any delay in the recovery of dead bodies complicates the identification process and has serious consequences for the families of the deceased. "The failure to identify the dead means that more people remain unaccounted for, and that the families will not be able to mourn their dead," said Andres Patino, the ICRC's regional forensic adviser. "In addition, when families don't know what happened to their loved ones they face further hardship, including psychological distress and suffering."
The death of thousands of people across Syria on a monthly basis has also overstretched the capacity of many morgues and hospitals, which are left struggling for material resources and technical expertise.

To help ease some of these constraints, the ICRC has been providing the Syrian Arab Red Crescent with the supplies needed for the proper handling of bodies, including protective equipment and body bags.

The training of Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers by an ICRC forensic specialist is also under way. "Volunteers from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent are nowadays often the ones retrieving dead bodies from the streets," said Mr Barth. "It is therefore essential that they be provided with the support needed, be it technical or material."

On 16 April a humanitarian pause was agreed upon by all sides in Aleppo to enable volunteers from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent’s Aleppo branch to retrieve 34 dead bodies, some of which had been lying around for weeks amid the rubble of deserted buildings and in empty streets. "Pauses of this kind should be allowed more frequently and in all hard-hit areas," said Mr Barth.

Despite the difficult security environment, the ICRC has continued to carry out its humanitarian activities with the aim of helping the people most severely affected. During the month of April, in cooperation with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, the ICRC delivered food and other aid as follows:

  • Food aid to over 180,000 people in Rural Damascus, Damascus, Aleppo, Hama, Deir Ezzor and Homs.
  • Mattresses and blankets to around 30,000 people in Rural Damascus, Aleppo, Hama and Damascus.
  • Kitchen items such as cooking pots, plates, cups and cutlery to more than 11,000 people in Lattakia and Hama.
  • Hygiene articles such as shampoo, soap, washing detergent and female hygiene items to approximately 30,000 people in Aleppo, Deir Ezzor, Hama and Damascus.

In cooperation with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, ICRC water engineers:

  • provided local water boards in Damascus, Aleppo and Hama, Deir Ezzor and Sweida with technical expertise, equipment and supplies;
  • delivered water by truck to close to 105,000 people in Rural Damascus, Homs and Deir Ezzor;
  • continued to upgrade water, housing and sanitary facilities at more than 107 public sites housing almost 26,000 displaced people in Aleppo, Hama, Damascus and Rural Damascus. Works were also completed at another 29 sites in Quneitra, al-Sweida, Damascus, Rural Damascus, al-Raqqa, and in Deir Ezzor where close to 9,000 displaced people are living;
  • provided training for 57 national society volunteers over a seven-day period in how to handle water supply systems in an emergency crisis situation.

Meanwhile, ICRC health personnel conducted medical assessments of health-care facilities in Al-Zabdani and Madaya in Rural Damascus. In addition, enough intravenous fluid was donated to hospitals in Damascus to treat 800 wounded patients.

For further information, please contact:
Rima Kamal, ICRC Damascus, tel: +963 930 33 67 18 or +963 11 331 0476
Dibeh Fakhr, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 37 23 or +41 79 447 37 26


Photos

A pause in the fighting allows volunteers from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to recover the bodies of those killed. 

Helloq, Aleppo, Syria.
A pause in the fighting allows volunteers from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to recover the bodies of those killed.
© SARC / v-p-sy-e-00269

A team of volunteers from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent transports a body in Helloq, Aleppo, Syria. 

Helloq, Aleppo, Syria.
A team of volunteers from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent transports a body.
© SARC / v-p-sy-e-00270