ICRC Negotiating Humanitarian Cease-fire In Syria

Published February 20, 2012 4:18PM (EST)

GENEVA (AP) — The International Committee of the Red Cross said Monday that it is trying to broker a cease-fire aimed at allowing emergency aid to reach people in the areas most affected by fighting in Syria, where thousands have died in an 11-month uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime.

An ICRC spokeswoman said the Geneva-based aid group has been in talks with Syrian authorities and opposition groups for some time but attempts to negotiate a cease-fire had begun only recently. She declined to specify when.

"We are currently discussing several possibilities with all those concerned, and it includes a cessation of fighting in the most affected areas," the spokeswoman, Carla Haddad, told The Associated Press.

She said the talks weren't aimed at resolving any political differences between the government and the opposition.

"The idea is to be able to facilitate swift access to people in need," Haddad said.

The announcement came as Syria's military sent tanks and other reinforcements toward the restive central city of Homs in what activists said appeared to be preparations for an offensive aimed at retaking rebel-held neighborhoods.

The U.N. last gave a death toll for the conflict in January, saying 5,400 had been killed in 2011 alone. But hundreds more have been killed since, according to activist groups. The group Local Coordination Committees says more than 7,300 have been killed since March of last year.

There is no way to independently verify the numbers, however, because Syria has banned almost all foreign journalists and human rights organizations.

By Salon Staff

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