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U.S.-led strikes in Iraq, Syria compound humanitarian plight - ICRC

GENEVA (Reuters) - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Friday that U.S.-led air strikes on Islamist insurgents in Iraq and Syria had worsened a dire humanitarian crisis on the ground.

All warring parties in the widening conflicts in the two countries should spare civilians and allow delivery of aid, the Geneva-based ICRC said in a statement.

“Years of fighting in Syria and Iraq, the proliferation of armed groups and the recent international air strikes in Iraq and Syria have compounded the humanitarian consequences of the conflicts in both countries,” it said.

“The humanitarian situation continues to worsen.”

Islamic State insurgents have seized swathes of Iraq and Syria, massacring non-Sunni Muslim prisoners and minority civilians in the path of their conquests, and drawing U.S.-led bombings backed by a coalition of Western and Arab states.

“Under international humanitarian law, every party to these conflicts must refrain from harming civilians, must protect medical personnel and facilities, and must allow humanitarian workers to bring help,” said Dominik Stillhart, the ICRC director of operations.

U.S.-led forces bombed Islamic State bases in eastern Syria on Friday and a monitoring group said the Syrian army had intensified its bombing campaign against Islamist rebels in the west of the country.

But Islamic State fighters tightened their siege on a town on Syria’s border with Turkey despite the aerial bombardment.

The U.S. Central Command, whose aircraft have also been hitting Islamic State targets in Iraq, said Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar had taken part in or supported the action in Syria that began on Tuesday.

All parties to conflict are bound by international humanitarian law, the ICRC said, adding that it had sought confidential contacts with all states and armed groups now involved to remind them of their obligations.

The independent agency is the guardian of the Geneva Conventions that lay down the rules of war, primarily aimed at protecting civilians caught up in armed conflicts.

The treaties require all sides to spare civilians, be proportionate in their military operations, distinguish between civilian and combatants and between military targets and civilian structures such as schools and hospitals.

“The law also includes the obligation to respect and protect civilians and people who are not currently participating in hostilities, such as the sick, the wounded and those who have been detained. Everyone must treat these people with humanity and preserve their dignity,” said Stillhart.

Editing by Mark Heinrich