* President of aid agency says situation worsening
* Red Cross unable to reach many civilians
* Says it urged Assad to allow 25 prison visits by year-end
By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, Nov 8 The International Committee of the
Red Cross said on Thursday it could not keep pace with the
growing needs of civilians caught up in Syria's worsening civil
Peter Maurer, ICRC president, said its staff had tried to
exploit "cracks" in shifting front lines to deliver supplies to
hotspots, as it had managed to do in Homs at the weekend.
But many civilians remained out of reach. "We have a lot of
blank spots, we know that no aid has been there and I can't tell
you what the situation is," he said.
Maurer likened it to "flying a plane without instruments"
because of the difficulty of assessing the number of wounded or
civilians lacking food, water and sanitation.
"We are in a situation where the humanitarian situation due
to the conflict is getting worse. And despite the fact that the
scope of the operation is increasing, we can't cope with the
worsening of the situation," he told a news briefing.
Maurer, who held talks in Damascus with Syrian President
Bashar al-Assad in early September, said the ICRC had been able
to import food and medical supplies more smoothly in the last
two months. It has brought in 14 big lorries to transport
supplies and secured warehouses with direct access to its goods.
However, its team led by Marianne Gasser faced a complex and
dangerous situation in trying to deliver assistance across
Syria, where at least 1.2 million are internally displaced.
"It's an issue sometimes of bureaucratic restrictions,
sometimes of military strategic restrictions and sometimes just
of security decisions of our delegation not to go into a certain
context," he said.
NEGOTIATING AT THE FRONT LINE
After days of negotiations, on Saturday the ICRC reached two
neighbourhoods in the Old City of Homs, delivering medical items
to treat up to 100 wounded and medicines against chronic
diseases. Food and hygiene items for 1,200 were also delivered.
"It is a complicated negotiation because you are negotiating
at the front line. And the front line is again relatively
clearly structured on the one side, it's less clearly structured
on the other, and it's pretty dangerous to go into such
situations," Maurer said, referring to divisions in rebel ranks.
ICRC staff, mainly confined to Damascus, have access to
Idlib in the north but have not been to Aleppo in "quite some
time", he said.
A Syrian opposition watchdog estimates that 38,000 people
have been killed in the 19-month-old revolt against Assad.
A medical aid group, the Syrian Medical Relief Organizations
(UOSSM), said on Wednesday Syrian troops were seizing foreign
aid and reselling it or channelling it towards government
loyalists, putting millions of lives at risk.
The ICRC has a "relationship of confidence" with the Syrian
Arab Red Crescent (SARC), but the SARC's Damascus branch may be
closer to the government than other branches, Maurer said.
"I cannot guarantee that you don't find examples where an
action of the SARC is not neutral or independent but rather
guided by political intentions. I cannot exclude that," he said.
Maurer said he had urged Assad to allow access to 25 prisons
across Syria by year-end. It has only visited prisons in
Damascus and Aleppo so far and its confidential findings are
shared only with authorities.
"We are still in difficult negotiations trying to expand the
scope of prison visits in Syria," he said.
"We haven't visited (detained) soldiers but we engage on
issues of detention as well as conduct of hostilities with
elements of the Syrian opposition forces."