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Syria: Civilians in besieged areas in urgent need of relief

24-07-2013 Operational Update

Tens of thousands of civilians in Syria are living in extremely harsh conditions in sealed-off areas, and humanitarian aid is being prevented from reaching them. The consequences could be tragic.

Civilians living in areas encircled by government forces or the various armed opposition groups are not receiving regular supplies of food or other basic necessities. To bring them aid it is necessary to obtain the consent of all sides, which can at times be very difficult.

"To gain access to people in need, it is essential that we maintain a dialogue with all concerned," said Magne Barth, head of the ICRC delegation in Syria. "The fact that, over the past two weeks, 5,000 people held at Aleppo’s central prison have been receiving regular deliveries of food shows that constant dialogue with the parties can yield results. Both sides agreed to allow humanitarian work to take place."

Aleppo's central prison had been sealed off for months, and the ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent received reports of an acute shortage of food for prison inmates. After extensive negotiations facilitated by the ICRC, regular deliveries were launched of meals cooked by a local charity organization and delivered by Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers.

Despite this recent success, reaching people in areas encircled by government forces or the various armed opposition groups remains one of the toughest challenges the ICRC faces in Syria. Under international humanitarian law, the parties to the conflict are obliged to allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief for civilians. They must also allow civilians in areas besieged by fighting to leave for safer areas, should they wish to do so. Regrettably, these obligations are not always fulfilled.

"We have been trying for close to 20 days now to bring medical supplies and other aid to the old city of Homs," said Mr Barth. "Despite lengthy negotiations with both sides, and three trips back and forth between Damascus and Homs, we have still not received the go-ahead from the Syrian authorities."

"We could help more people in Homs and elsewhere in the country if there were a willingness on all sides to allow us to do so," he added.

So far this month, in addition to its efforts to reach civilians in Homs and Aleppo, the ICRC has brought food to 215,000 people and household essentials to 42,000 people in Damascus, Rural Damascus, Deir Ez Zor, Hama, Idleb and Lattakia in cooperation with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. Furthermore, the ICRC has ensured that clean drinking water has been available for more than 20 million people throughout the country and upgraded public facilities serving as temporary residences for more than 20,000 displaced people.

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


Al-Quasayr, Homs. Destroyed buildings. 

Al-Quasayr, Homs.
Destroyed buildings.

An SARC convoy on its way to deliver food to inmates of the central prison. 

An SARC convoy on its way to deliver food to inmates of the central prison.