Red Cross says in talks with Syria on access to those fleeing Aleppo

GENEVA (Reuters) - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is in talks with the Syrian government about gaining access to people fleeing rebel-held eastern Aleppo who are being screened or detained, a senior ICRC official told Reuters on Thursday.

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Dominik Stillhart, director of ICRC operations worldwide, said the aid agency was in touch with all sides to be able to deliver food and other supplies to civilians trapped in the besieged sector and to evacuate the wounded.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group, has reported that the government is detaining and questioning hundreds of those fleeing. A Syrian military source denied this on Wednesday saying there had been no arrests.

“We are of course trying to get access to these screening facilities and screening centers. In Syria we also have access to a number of places of detention,” Stillhart told Reuters in an interview at the ICRC’s headquarters in Geneva.

“But the situation is for the time being extremely confusing. It is not easy for our teams to have access to these centers,” he added. “But that is another area of dialogue we have of course with the Syrian government and we are working on that access.”

Damascus has said throughout the five-year conflict that allegations of arbitrary detention and torture are fabricated.

The ICRC, whose Syria operation is its largest worldwide, has not had access to eastern Aleppo since April.

It is in touch with many rebel groups inside the sector, reminding them of the rules of war, Stillhart said.

“It’s mainly messages about sparing the civilian population that is really caught between a rock and a hard place in these urban areas that are affected by fighting,” he said.

The ICRC has called for the warring sides to allow it to evacuate the sick and wounded needing treatment, whom the United Nations said on Thursday now number 400.

“We don’t know how many urgent cases there are. We suspect that there are many,” Stillhart said.

For medical evacuations to be carried out, all sides must agree.

“And so far we have not seen a situation whereby all sides agreed for the evacuation of civilians or even more urgent medical cases that need evacuation.”

“There must also be many combatants that have been wounded,” he added. “And of course again under international humanitarian law, anybody who is out of combat deserves medical treatment.”

Editing by Hugh Lawson