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Middle east

Red Cross chief meets Syrian president and detainees

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-09-05

Syrian security forces launched deadly raids in the central province of Homs on Monday, as the head of the Red Cross Jakob Kellenberger met with President Bashar al-Assad and announced he had visited prison detainees.

AFP - Security forces launched deadly raids to crush anti-regime dissent on Monday, activists said, as the Red Cross gained access to a Damascus jail for the first time in Syria's uprising.

Activists said at least 13 people were killed in the latest violence: eight in raids on the central province of Homs, four when a bus with oil workers was raked by gunfire, and a man shot dead trying to cross the border into Turkey.

The bloodshed came as International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) head Jakob Kellenberger ended a visit to Syria, where rights groups say 10,000 people have been arrested since anti-regime protests erupted in mid-March.

A senior Arab League official, meanwhile, said secretary general Nabil al-Arabi will visit Damascus on Wednesday carrying an Arab peace initiative for unrest-swept Syria.

The ICRC said Kellenberger met President Bashar al-Assad before winding up his visit and announced that Red Cross delegates visited Damascus central prison in Adra suburb on Sunday.

"Initially, we will have access to persons detained by the ministry of the interior, and we are hopeful that we will soon be able to visit all detainees," Kellenberger said in a statement.

"This is an important step forward for our humanitarian activities in Syria," he said.

The ICRC said Kellenberger "welcomed the progress made in terms of access to areas affected by the ongoing violence. He emphasized one of his main concerns now is to ensure that the wounded and sick are able to obtain medical care."

His meeting with Assad also covered "the rules governing the use of force by security forces in the current situation and the obligation to respect the physical and psychological well-being and human dignity of detainees," it said.

On the ground, troops and security forces raided several districts in Homs, killing eight civilians, and also launched assaults on the central province of Hama, another hotbed of anti-regime protests.

The Local Coordination Committees (LCC) said a man was shot dead by a sniper in the Idlib region of northwest Syria as he tried to cross into Turkey.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a man and his son were among those killed in Homs, adding they were apparently shot dead by "shabiha" pro-government militiamen as the two rode a scooter.

The Observatory also reported four people were killed and 11 wounded when gunmen at dusk ambushed a bus carrying employees of the Homs branch of Syria's oil company.

The Britain-based group said at least 35 people were wounded in Homs, where up to 80 people were arrested in the city's Al-Khalidiyeh district.

And a "mass grave containing the remains of seven bodies" was discoverd near the village of Rami in northwest Syria, the LCC reported, adding that the army prevented residents from retrieving the bodies.

More than 2,200 people have been killed in Syria since the almost daily mass protests began, according to the United Nations. Assad's regime says it is fighting foreign-backed "armed terrorist gangs."

Amnesty International said at the end of August that the number of deaths in Syrian prisons rose sharply in 2011, and included 10 children.

"No less than 88 such deaths have been reported to Amnesty International as occurring during the period from April 1 and August 15," Amnesty said, adding that for at least 52 of them there was evidence of torture leading to death.

On the diplomatic front, Arabi said Damascus has agreed to a visit which he announced a week earlier after the 22-member bloc met on the Syria crisis. "I will express Arab concerns and I will listen," he said.

After a special meeting on Syria that was held on August 27, the Arab League said the organisation's chief would head to Damascus bearing "an initiative to solve the crisis" in Syria.

An Arab diplomat in Cairo said it would echo international calls for a "halt to military operations, the release of prisoners and the launch of political reforms" in Syria.

After their August 27 meeting, Arab foreign ministers urged an "end to the spilling of blood and (for Syria) to follow the way of reason before it is too late" and for reforms in Syria.

Syria said the statement contained "unacceptable and biased language," leaving Arabi to await a green light for a proposed visit.

Date created : 2011-09-05

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