14 August 2012 Arriving in the Syrian capital of Damascus, the United Nations top relief official today called on the parties in the Middle Eastern country’s ongoing conflict to respect international humanitarian law and its provisions.
The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, arrived in Syria earlier on Tuesday, for a three day visit to that strife-torn country and Lebanon, to see for herself the impact of the intensifying conflict and to discuss ways to increase humanitarian assistance.
Syria has been wracked by violence, with an estimated 17,000 people, mostly civilians, killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began some 17 months ago. Over the past fortnight, there have been reports of an escalation in violence in many towns and villages, as well as the country’s two biggest cities, Damascus and Aleppo.
According to a news release issued by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which Ms. Amos heads, the Government of Syria estimates that 1.2 million people have been forced to flee their homes and are living in temporary shelters or with host families.
Ms. Amos met with Syria’s Prime Minister Wael Nader al-Halqi, and, in their meeting, she stressed the importance of the principles of impartiality and independence that underpin humanitarian work and the need for humanitarian workers to reach all those affected by the conflict.
She called on all parties to respect international humanitarian law and its provisions, which stress the importance of protecting civilians.
The humanitarian official also visited schools hosting hundreds of displaced people in the Zahera district of Damascus.
“The people I met today told me they need clean water, sanitation, medical help and food. They are frightened,” Ms. Amos said. “Many have no home to return to and they desperately need more help and support.”
She also met with representatives of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and praised their “courageous staff and volunteers who continue to lead the humanitarian response in Syria, facing great danger and difficulty every day.”
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are 157,577 registered Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. However, UNHCR was careful to note that its official figures do not reflect the entire refugee population as many refugees are still waiting or are reluctant to register.
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