Syrian regime blocks unhindered access to aid agencies

Syrian regime blocks unhindered access to aid agencies

UN humanitarian aid chief Valerie Amos has said the Syrian government has agreed to allow limited access to UN aid agencies, but is asking for more time, Today's Zaman reported. Speaking at a press conference held in Ankara on Friday, Amos said Syrian government officials had agreed to allow a UN preliminary humanitarian assessment mission to enter the country.

"In Damascus I met the Syrian foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, and other government ministers, and I raised my concerns regarding the humanitarian situation with them. We have agreed on a joint preliminary humanitarian assessment mission to areas where people urgently need assistance," Amos said.

Amos deemed this Syrian government permission "a necessary first step" for the unhindered access of humanitarian organizations to the country "to evacuate the wounded and deliver desperately needed supplies."

She held a private meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Friday in order to exchange views on the situation she witnessed in Homs. Prior to the meeting, Amos visited refugee camps along the Turkish-Syrian border in Turkey's southern province of Hatay, set up for refugees fleeing from the sustained Syrian government crackdown. In the meeting with Davutoglu, Amos described the situation in Homs as "shocking."

Davutoglu emphasized that Turkey would continue to extend support to the Syrian people and would jointly work with UN agencies to deliver humanitarian aid.

The foreign minister also noted that Turkey has repeatedly called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stop the violence and implement reforms. The brutal crackdown has been going on for almost one year. He also expressed his concerns about the humanitarian situation in the neighboring country. Amos, who was denied access to Syria last week, was in the country on a three-day mission to try to persuade Syrian officials to allow humanitarian aid to enter the country.

This visit by Amos followed her talks with Lebanese and Jordanian government officials last week on the situation in Syria.

"I commend all three governments [Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan] for keeping the borders open for people in distress and for providing relief to them in a sustained manner," Amos said.

She also visited Hatay's refugee camps on Friday, where a significant number of refugees fled that same day, frightened by a government assault to drive out rebels from Homs' Baba Amr neighborhood.

As Amos toured Syrian refugee camps in Hatay along the Turkish-Syrian border prior to the meeting with Davutoglu, Turkish and international media reported four army defectors amongst around 250 new refugees fled to Turkey on Friday. According to information from a local governor in Hatay, two colonels, one commander and two sergeants have defected and fled to refugee camps in the province.

The number of Syrian refugees in the refugee camps reached 11,800 by Friday morning, a source from the Turkish Foreign Ministry stated.

Assad's regime has seen a steady stream of low-level army defectors, who have joined a group of dissidents known as the Free Syrian Army, now numbering in the thousands.

On Thursday, Syria's deputy oil minister became the highest-ranking civilian official to join the opposition and urged his countrymen to "abandon this sinking ship" as the nation spirals toward civil war. Abdo Husameddine, 58, announced in a video that he had defected from President Assad's regime.

Brig. Gen. Mostafa Ahmad al-Sheik, who fled to Turkey in January, was the highest ranking officer to bolt. In late August, Adnan Bakkour, the attorney general of the central city of Hama, appeared in a video announcing he had defected. Ankara has turned against former friend President Assad over his brutal crackdown on protesters, and fears that there could be massacres in Syrian towns and cities that are centers of opposition to his rule.

The United Nations is readying food stocks for 1.5 million people in Syria as part of a 90-day, $105 million emergency plan to help civilians deprived of basic supplies after nearly a year of conflict. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said it had distributed some food supplies in Syria through local aid agencies, but it had not reached people in the areas worst hit by the violence. The UN estimates more than 7,500 civilians have died in the crackdown.

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