GENEVA (Reuters) - The deputy head of the ICRC delegation in Damascus told Reuters Friday that getting access to the growing number of casualties in Syria was getting more difficult as violence and insecurity there intensifies.
“With the deterioration of the situation in the past weeks, there is increased violence that affects the ability to do medical evacuations, to come to the rescue of wounded, to do first aid and medical evacuations,” Laurent Fellay of the International Committee of the Red Cross told Reuters in Geneva.
The ICRC, the only independent aid agency present in Syria, has doubled its staff since the uprising began last June, now deploying 16 expatriates along with some 30 Syrians, he said.
“In the last few days the Syrian Arab Red Crescent or ICRC have been advised, either before doing medical missions or while trying to do them, at army checkpoints not to proceed because the situation does not allow this to happen,” he said.
Volunteers from the Syrian Arab Red Cresent in Homs have been the main providers of first aid and medical evacuations during a week of shelling that has killed dozens of civilians and drawn condemnation from world leaders. Makeshift field hospitals have also been set up in besieged opposition areas.
Ambulances of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent went to the northern city of Aleppo following bomb blasts earlier Friday, Fellay said. Six trucks carrying emergency food and medical supplies were heading to Homs Saturday, its second convoy in a week to the besieged western city, he said.
At least 28 people were killed in two bomb attacks in Aleppo Friday while in Homs, opposition neighborhoods endured another day of bombardment by President Bashar al-Assad’s troops whose forces are battling an 11-month revolt.
ICRC officials travel in convoys without armed escort after doing their own security assessments.
Since June, often accompanied by Red Crescent volunteers, they have made some 25 missions to deliver supplies to violence-hit areas including Homs, Hama, the northern town of Idlib, the capital Damascus and suburbs, and Deraa, Fellay said.
“That brings me to the point which is of utmost importance, that Red Crescent workers be respected and be allowed to have access to different places to evacuate the wounded,” he said in an interview at ICRC headquarters after a six-month assignment.
“The wounded person will decide if he wants to be evacuated to a public hospital or if he prefers to go home or to a different place,” he said, adding that there were two private hospitals in Homs that also received wounded.
Fellay is an ICRC veteran from Switzerland who has worked in conflict zones in Africa, Asia, the Caucasus and Latin America.
Editing by Louise Ireland