Red Cross wins Russia backing on Syria

19th March 2012, Comments 0 comments

The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross said Monday he felt encouraged by Russia's position on Syria after trying to secure stronger pressure from Moscow on its Soviet-era ally.

ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger huddled with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for about 90 minutes before flying to Brussels to ask NATO members to exert similar influence with Syria's rebel forces.

The meetings and simultaneous visit to Syria by teams from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and United Nations come amid frenzied efforts by relief workers to reach thousands of civilians trapped in the escalating violence.

The ICRC in particular has been promoting a daily two-hour ceasefire that could be used for delivering aid and bringing the injured to safety after a year of fighting that opposition activists say has claimed more than 9,100 lives.

Kellenberger and Lavrov issued no joint statement but ICRC officials in Moscow and Geneva said Kellenberger "received positive indications of support" from Russia regarding his ceasefire proposal.

Russia first backed the idea in February and has since stepped up its criticism of President Bashar al-Assad after first blocking two UN Security Council resolutions condemning him for the year of bloody violence.

Kellenberger told the ITAR-TASS news agency before leaving Moscow that he felt "gratified" that Russia shared Western concerns about the humanitarian situation in Syria.

"I would like to note with satisfaction and gratitude that Sergei Lavrov shares our concern about these problems," Kellenberger was quoted as saying.

"As you well understand, Russia's support is very important to us."

An ICRC spokeswoman in Moscow said the meeting was a part of Kellenberger's broader efforts to get world powers to secure commitments from both sides to put down their arms for a few hours each day.

"The ICRC hopes to see concrete results of such meetings on the ground in the coming days and weeks," Victoria Zotikova told AFP.

Lavrov levelled some of his strongest criticism of Assad during an appearance before Russian lawmakers last week in which he accused the regime of dragging its feet on reforms and failing at times to follow Moscow's suggestions.

He later accused both the rebels and Assad's forces of "very often using "disproportionate force" in the conflict.

But Lavrov on Saturday also criticised Western powers for being either unwilling or unable to put sufficient pressure on the armed opposition amid growing fears that the violence was escalating out of control.

Kellenberger's visit notably ended without any new public call from Russia for Assad to cooperate more fully with international relief teams.

A brief foreign ministry statement said only that "Russia continues to actively seek a political solution to the Syria crisis... and the provision of humanitarian assistance to the civilian population."

Yet it also added in an unusual nuance that "Moscow has recently noted certain changes in tone in our Western partners' behaviour toward Syria -- a display of greater realism on their part."

That comment appeared to acknowledge the West's recent ability to assuage Russia's concerns about possible foreign intervention in Syria -- one of the main factors behind Russia's veto with China of the UN resolutions.

Kellenberger for his part said he expressed his fears to Lavrov that much of Syria could soon be engulfed in the type of brutal violence recently seen in the flashpoint city of Homs.

"We fear that the situation that we witnessed in Homs a few weeks ago could be repeated in other places where there are clashes," Kellenberger told ITAR-TASS.

"This is absolutely unacceptable to us."


© 2012 AFP

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