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Red Cross Chief in Syria to Mediate Humanitarian Truce

The President of the International Committee of the Red Cross Jakob Kellenberger meets Syrian Health Minister Wael al-Halqi (L) in Damascus, April 3, 2012
The President of the International Committee of the Red Cross Jakob Kellenberger meets Syrian Health Minister Wael al-Halqi (L) in Damascus, April 3, 2012

International Red Cross chief Jakob Kellenberger said Tuesday that it was too early to predict results from his meetings with Syrian government officials.

The Red Cross chief traveled to Damascus to try to secure an agreement on implementing a daily two-hour pause in attacks to provide humanitarian assistance.

ICRC spokesman Saleh Dabbakeh said Kellenberger is trying to arrange assistance in several forms. "There are a few topics that he is discussing. One is the protection of civilians," he said.

"There is the issue of the protection of medical teams and ensuring that medical assistance gets to people who need it," Dabbakeh added. "There is the issue of ... visiting all detention places in Syria, and of expanding the ICRC presence in [Syria] because there is increasing demand for humanitarian assistance."

Dabbakeh said Kellenberger is due to visit the flashpoint southern city of Daraa on Wednesday. He said ICRC personnel have made progress recently in reaching victims of fighting and refugees that have become displaced inside Syria.

"The ICRC is on the ground on a daily basis, continuously. We have been able to expand our visits," Dabbakeh said. "They are longer and they are more frequent than before. But we want the actual presence on the ground to be more extensive because there is more need for humanitarian assistance now in different areas."

Syrian state-run media said Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem pledged cooperation with the international relief group.

Meanwhile, government attacks continued Tuesday.  Witnesses said Syrian government troops shelled the town of Taftanaz in Idlib province, near the Turkish border, amid conflicting reports over whether government tanks were storming the town.

Opposition activist Fadi Yassine in Idlib province told Alhurra television that rebel soldiers from the Free Syrian Army have been trying to hold off government troops. He said that FSA forces have clashed with government troops, and are trying to defend their families and residents of Taftanaz, but their abilities are limited. He said the strategy of government forces is to shell towns from a distance of five to 10 kilometers before trying to invade.

American University of Beirut Political Science Professor Hilal Khashan said talk of a cease-fire for humanitarian aid is problematic because the Syrian government is stepping up its military operations rather than reducing them.

“To talk about a humanitarian cease-fire makes no sense, because the regime is escalating," Khashan said. "They feel they have been given a golden opportunity, another opportunity to get done with the uprising within seven more days."

In its agreement with U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria Kofi Annan, Damascus has until April 10 to withdraw its troops from cities and towns where fighting is taking place. But Western and Arab nations supporting the opposition are mostly skeptical the Syrian government will comply.

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