Red Cross ‘can’t cope’ as Syria crisis worsens, chief says


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The Red Cross lamented Thursday that the deepening crisis in Syria has prevented it from helping many of those in need, even as it steps up its efforts.

‘We can’t cope with the worsening of the situation,’ Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said at a briefing in Geneva.


Although the aid group has fed more than a million people in partnership with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, trucked in water, and delivered medicine, crutches and other hospital supplies, Maurer said ‘blank spots’ in aid remained. The United Nations has estimated that more than 2.5 million people need aid; more than 350,000 people have spilled out of the country and registered as refugees.

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The Red Cross chief met with Syrian President Bashar Assad earlier this fall and told reporters that the flow of aid had improved somewhat since but that the group is still unable to reach all prisons and other detention facilities, the Associated Press reported. It succeeded in reaching battered districts in the city of Homs in late October, but violence has continued to block it from other areas.

Aid workers and volunteers have been among those slain in a conflict that is estimated to have killed tens of thousands of people. A Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteer was caught in fighting and killed last month in Harasta; two volunteers were injured in two incidents the next day in the same area.

The group has also faced claims that foreign aid has been seized or resold. The Red Cross disputed allegations by a Syrian medical group that the vast majority of such aid ends up in the hands of government loyalists, but Maurer said he couldn’t guarantee that every branch of the partnering Red Crescent was totally neutral, Reuters reported Thursday. In other conflicts, Maurer also pointed to problems supplying aid in northern Mali, where he said half a million people are in need. The northern stretches of the west African country have been in turmoil after religious extremists capitalized on the gains of ethnic Tuareg rebels and instability after a coup to impose strict religious law.



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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, speaks during a briefing at the United Nations building in Geneva on Thursday. Credit: Martial Trezzini / EPA