UPDATE 1-ICRC: Homs move doesn't improve humanitarian situation in Syria

Sat Feb 15, 2014 7:58am EST

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GENEVA Feb 15 (Reuters) - Syria's government and opposition still do not honour basic tenets of international humanitarian law despite the evacuation of besieged Syrians from the Old City of Homs, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Saturday.

ICRC President Peter Maurer said the evacuation did not herald any wider improvement in humanitarian access in Syria, where the United Nations says it cannot access up to 3 million people in need.

The deal to get civilians out of the Old City was initially seen as an ice-breaker that would kickstart peace talks in Geneva, but their second six-day round concluded on Saturday still deadlocked on all other issues beside the evacuation.

Maurer said there were many other besieged areas besides Homs, with over 1 million people living in extremely difficult conditions.

"Over the past year, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) have repeatedly attempted to gain access to Homs and other besieged areas in order to bring much-needed relief to residents," he said in a statement.

"Negotiations with the Syrian authorities and opposition groups have not resulted in meaningful access or a firm commitment to respect the basic principles of international humanitarian law," he said. "This pattern has again played out in Homs over the last week."

The basic tenets of the law were simple, he said. The parties to the conflict had to provide for the basic needs of the population or authorise impartial humanitarian action and, if necessary, evacuations of people wanting to leave.

Anyone choosing to stay behind remained protected by international humanitarian law and must not be attacked, he said.

"If humanitarian work is to be meaningful and effective, it must be supported by the parties," he said. "This means more than one-off distributions and operations: it requires repeated access to the areas affected by the fighting."

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Tom Heneghan)