x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Opposition calls for foreign troops to secure Syria aid

Fears for safety of humanitarian workers, as Syrian National Council asks for a foreign-intervention plan or temporary ceasefires to open up safe corridors for aid and medicine.

Calls have been made for temporary ceasefires and, or, military intervention to allow the safe passage of aid workers in Syria as evidence of fierce fighting, such as this burnt-out armoured vehicle in Homs, grows across several areas of Syria.
Calls have been made for temporary ceasefires and, or, military intervention to allow the safe passage of aid workers in Syria as evidence of fierce fighting, such as this burnt-out armoured vehicle in Homs, grows across several areas of Syria.

BEIRUT // Foreign military intervention may be the only way to get emergency aid to Syrian civilians trapped by fighting if negotiations cannot secure safe passage for humanitarian workers, the country’s main opposition group said yesterday.

A spokeswoman for the Syrian National Council (SNC) said two separate proposals – temporary ceasefires and humanitarian corridors – would only work if President Bashar Al Assad’s allies, mainly Russia, pressured his regime.

“If there is such a commitment from the Russian government we see that would allow us to avoid the heavy military means that would be needed to protect a safe passage,” the SNC spokeswoman, Bassma Kodmani, told reporters in Geneva yesterday after meeting the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Russia, Syria’s biggest military ally and which has opposed harsher international measures to end the Syrian government’s crackdown against the opposition, yesterday backed the Red Cross’s suggestion of a daily two-hour humanitarian ceasefire.

But Moscow opposes so-called humanitarian corridors, saying they could be used to smuggle arms to opposition fighters.

Welcoming the ceasefire call to allow food and medicine in, Ms Kodmani said the SNC would press for humanitarian corridors to allow aid to be brought in from Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey at a “Friends of Syria” conference tomorrow in Tunisia.

“I’m not sure without those passages the ICRC alone will be able to respond to the needs on the ground,” she said.

The Friends of Syria group brings together countries and groups who want to end the violence that has killed thousands in the past year.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Gennady Gatilov, has criticised the idea of humanitarian corridors, saying potential differences over safe zones could lead to more violence.

Mr Gatilov criticised the Tunis conference for not inviting representatives of the Syrian government.

He also blamed unspecified powers for arming the Syrian opposition, and said that was fuelling the conflict.

Russia and China have vetoed two Security Council resolutions backing Arab League plans aimed at ending the conflict and condemning Mr Al Assad’s crackdown on protests.

Ms Kodmani said time was running out for the world to act.“There is a humanitarian emergency,” she said. “The world has not responded to this emergency adequately. The people in Syria feel abandoned. They feel they are being let down by the world.”

The Red Cross has said negotiations on humanitarian access with Syrian authorities and opposition groups were at an early stage.

While Washington has refrained from calling for foreign military assistance for Syria’s rebels, the Obama administration appears to be opening the door slightly to the possibility.

“We still believe that a political solution is what’s needed in Syria,” Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, said on Tuesday.

“We don’t want to take actions that would contribute to the further militarisation of Syria, because that could take the country down a dangerous path. But we don’t rule out additional measures.”

The US Republican senator, John McCain, has urged countries that support the opposition to arm the rebels.

Avaaz, a global campaigning organisation, yesterday called for an urgent humanitarian ceasefire around the besieged city of Homs, parts of which have been shelled by government forces for almost three weeks.

The group said more than 20,000 people are trapped in the Baba Amr neighbourhood, which has borne the brunt of the bombardment.

There is a chronic lack of food and medicine in some parts of the city, activists said.

At least 20 people were killed in Homs yesterday, according to the Local Coordination Committees, a network of opposition activists. These figures could not be independently verified.

zconstantine@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Reuters and the Associated Press