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The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is urgently appealing for the protection of the civilian population in Pakistan as the level of violence rises throughout the country. The ICRC says it is particularly concerned about the situation of tens of thousands of civilians trapped in strife-torn South Waziristan.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says military operations in South Waziristan and a spate of suicide attacks throughout Pakistan are increasing the numbers of civilian casualties, wounded prisoners and internally displaced persons.

ICRC head of operations for South Asia, Jacques de Maio, says it is hard to know how many people have fled fighting between the Pakistan army and Taliban militants in South Waziristan.  

He says some reports put the number at 50,000 people. But, he says other reports indicate up to 150,000 people may be moving out of the area. He says the whole situation is extremely worrying.

"The humanitarian concerns must extend imperatively to all the civilians who are still in the areas, which are in the theater of military operations and armed clashes," he said. "Those are civilians trapped in the actual combat zones and we are particularly concerned about the fate of the sick and the wounded in those areas."  

De Maio says lack of access to Waziristan is preventing the ICRC from obtaining an exact picture of the humanitarian needs of the people left behind. He says most of the people who have fled their homes are relying on local authorities and on family to meet their immediate needs.  

He says this is putting great stress on the limited resources of host families. While the humanitarian needs are great, he says the number one priority right now is protection for civilians from the effects of armed violence and conflict.

"It is an absolute imperative and priority that all those involved in this armed violence observe the principles of discrimination, distinction between civilians and non-combatants and actual combatants," he added. "And, also proportionality in the methods, ways and means of conducting these operations? The ICRC has offered its services to the government of Pakistan to be granted full access to all people deprived of freedom in relation to the situation, be they held under civilian or military authority."  

De Maio says it is critical that aid get through to those who need it. He says it is urgent to provide effective and unobstructed medical services for the sick and wounded.

He says the ICRC with the Pakistan Red Crescent has managed to provide substantial aid to 500,000 displaced people. He says they have delivered food, water, health care and other goods and services to ensure that tens of thousands of sick and wounded civilians receive treatment.

He says the field surgical hospital in Peshawar is carrying out 100 surgical operations a week and is supporting private and governmental facilities in the North-West Frontier Province and in the Tribal Areas.

He is appealing for the ICRC to be given safe access to the combat zones to be able to assist those who have been wounded in the crossfire.