ICRC vows to keep working in Syria despite kidnapping

14th October 2013, Comments 0 comments

The Red Cross vowed Monday not to stop work in war-torn Syria despite the weekend kidnapping of seven aid workers there, but said it was reviewing its security.

"We are completely committed to supporting the Syrian population in this difficult moment," Ewan Watson, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, told Swiss public radio.

"We don't have any intention of stopping our activities in Syria, but of course this situation makes us reflect and take a close look at our operations because in the end, we will not be able to work and help the Syrian population without having security for our personnel," he said.

"We are worried that these types of incidents will prevent us from having as large of an access in the future and from carrying out our humanitarian work," he added.

Last year, the ICRC halted operations in parts of Pakistan following the kidnapping and murder of a British employee there.

Six ICRC workers and a Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteer were abducted by gunmen Sunday as their convoy drove from the northwestern Idlib province back to the capital Damascus.

Watson did not identify their nationalities, saying only that most were Syrian.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the abduction, which took place after the team spent four days delivering medical supplies.

The ICRC has called for their unconditional release.

Kidnapping has become an increasing problem in Syria, with journalists and aid workers frequently targeted in rebel-held parts of the country, largely in the north.

The ICRC has some 30 expatriate staff in Syria, along with 120 local employees.

They work hand in hand with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, one of the few organisations able to deliver aid nationwide.

It is part of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which like the ICRC is based in Geneva.

"At the federation, we are extremely saddened to hear that this has taken place, and we're in close contact with our relevant offices," Simon Eccleshall, head of its crisis-management arm, told reporters.

Joelle Tanguy, chief of the federation's diplomatic division, added: "We want to echo the ICRC's call for their immediate and unconditional release".

Security is a constant concern as aid workers go back and forth across the often fluid front lines in the war between a range of rebel groups and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

Twenty-two Red Crescent volunteers have been killed since the conflict erupted in March 2011, the ICRC's Damascus spokesman Simon Schorno told AFP, adding that he did not immediately have a figure for the number active in the field.

The United Nations has 4,800 people working in Syria, said Jens Laerke, spokesman for its Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The vast majority are Syrians, he told AFP.

According to the specialist website aidworkersecurity.org, whose data runs to September 4, a total of 39 Syrian aid workers have been killed or wounded since the war began.

Two foreign staff have also died, while three German aid workers this year escaped several months after being kidnapped in Idlib.

Syria's war has claimed more than 115,000 lives, driven over two million people out of the country and left millions more within its borders reliant on aid to survive.

© 2013 AFP

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