Syria: Killings Spike To Record Level In August, Red Cross Seeks Entry

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By Maya Shwayder | September 5, 2012 2:38 AM EST

International Committee of the Red Cross Director Peter Mauer met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday to discuss opening channels for international aid to reach the estimated 230,000 refugees in the strife-torn country.

"At a time when more and more civilians are being exposed to extreme violence, it is of the utmost importance that we and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent succeed in significantly scaling up our humanitarian response," Maurer said in a statement.

"It is vital that we build on what has already been achieved on the ground."

Maurer described the 45-minute meeting as "positive," and a Syrian television report quoted Assad saying that he "welcomes the work which the [International] Committee [of the Red Cross], as long as it is carried out in an independent and neutral way."

August 2012 saw a record spike in deaths and displacement in Syria: according to a statement from the UN Refugee Agency, there were 103,416 people seeking asylum in neighboring countries in August alone, bringing the total number of refugees awaiting registration to 235,300.

The Refugee Agency also reported on August 31 that around 2,200 Syrians crossed into Lebanon in the last week in August, double the previous weekly average. Turkish authorities say they are currently hosting 80,410 Syrian refugees, with another 8,000 waiting to cross from Syria into Turkey, according to a tweet from UN Human Rights Council in Ireland.

Meanwhile, the number of deaths within the Syrian carnage reached 5,000 in August -- 153 died on Monday, September 3 alone, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The total death toll in the 18-month conflict is now put at around 30,000

Consequently, the Red Cross is moving to expand their operations, partnering with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, who have already managed to provide around 800,000 people with food, clean water, and other relief items since the violence erupted.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama remained seemingly passive about the Syrian crisis, telling White House reporters earlier in August "we're monitoring the situation very carefully," and that the use of chemicals weapons in Syria would be his "red line," meaning then and only then would he choose to intervene in Syria.

The UN has thus far suspended Syria's membership in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, prompting Syria's Permanent Representative to the UN, Bashar Ja'afari, to address a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon declaring that the move is a "violation of the organization's charter," and that concern for Syria should be "expressed by sincere and constructive efforts to restore security and stability to Syria."

Elsewhere in UN paper pushing, on August 21 the UN General Assembly passed a measure to implement a resolution previously approved on August 3, to support the prevention of armed conflict in Syria, calling the humanitarian situation "dire" and saying that international diplomatic efforts "lack unity and cohesion."

The same day, Ban announced the appointment of Lakhdar Brahimi as the new Joint Special Representative of the UN and the League of Arab States, a role that Kofi Annan resigned from in early August out of frustration.

The UN Supervision Mission in Syria, which ended on August 19, failed to establish a ceasefire or reduction in the use of heavy weapons and violence on both sides. In an interview in May at the beginning of the mission, Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous admitted that "it is one of the most difficult missions we've ever had because let's face it: we are there to monitor a cease-fire which does not exist yet."

The cease-fire still does not exist, even after the Supervision Mission ended in August.

Speaking at a press conference at the United Nations in New York on August 6, Father Paolo Dall'Oglio, a Jesuit priest who until recently had been living and promoting religious pluralism in Syria for 30 years, said that the UN peacekeeping missions had no role they could possibly play anymore.

"I've been asking for more than one year that the United Nations offer assistance to the Syrian people through a massive presence of pacifist, non-violent peace keepers," Dall'oglio said. "Today, this is not realistic anymore. We are now at the point where the disaster already happened. Syria is to be re-built."

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