UN official in Syria for humanitarian assessment amid unabated violence

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 As violence continued in several Syrian cities, Valerie Amos, visiting UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, held talks Sunday with Syrian officials about the humanitarian situation in the conflict-ravaged country.

Upon arriving in Damascus on Sunday, Amos, who is on a two-day visit, headed to Saadallah Wanous School in Masaken Barzeh neighborhood in the Syrian which has been turned into a shelter for displaced Syrians.

She told reporters that she came to the area to “see a shelter and particularly a mobile health clinic. People talk to me a lot about their needs and their desperation having had to come here from their communities … And the fact that they’re not able to go back and they don’t know what is happening in those areas.”

“People are saying to us that they would like us to do more, and of course, very grateful to the NGOs that are operating here and (to) the work they are doing,” she said, adding that the UN can do more to help the displaced Syrians.

After the shelter school, Amos headed to the Foreign Ministry where she met with Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem. She also visited the Ministry of Social Affairs and met with Minister Jassim Mohammad Zakarya, who told reporters after the meeting that his ministry had cooperated with local society committees and also accepted aid from international organization in a bid to provide the affected people with all their needs.

The visit, which is Amos’ third one since the unrest in Syria began in early 2011, came less than a week after a UN humanitarian delegation visited the hotspots in the country and warned of ” shocking” and “appalling” situations.

The UN has recently said that about four million Syrians are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, at least two million them internally displaced.

Meanwhile, a Syrian military source was quoted by the state media as saying that the government troops have repelled armed groups’ attack on Abu-Zhur military airport in the northwestern province of Idlib, adding that most of the assailants were either killed or injured and their weapons destroyed.

Also in Idlib, local media said more than 30 armed men were killed Sunday in clashes at the city’s central province, which have been raging on since Friday morning.

Activists said earlier that the rebels had managed to storm the prison and freed more than 300 detainees.

Separately, gunmen fired a mortar shell on Sunday that landed at the country’s General Publication Establishment in Damascus, injuring workers and leaving material damages, the state-run SANA news agency said.

The attack set parts of the establishment alight and caused big damages to the printing machines as well as to the trucks that were used to freight and distribute school books, SANA said.

The attack is the latest in a series of intensified violence that has engulfed most Syrian cities, including Damascus and Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and economic hub.

Most of Aleppo’s factories and governmental establishments have been looted and destroyed, local and foreign reports said; and the Syrian government has been accusing the rebels and radical groups of targeting the country’s infrastructure.

Opposition activists, meantime, reported violence across the country with clashes and government troops shelling and air- striking several hotspots nationwide.

In other developments on Sunday, an official source at the Foreign Ministry denied as “absolutely baseless” media reports about Syria’s alleged recruitment of a person to carry out a bombing in the holy sites in Mecca during the last pilgrimage season.

“The Syrian Arab Republic, while absolutely denying the report, is simultaneously confirming its keenness on the security and safety of the Saudi kingdom and the holy sites inside it,” it said.

Some media outlets, allegedly quoting a Syrian who served in the Syrian Consulate in Saudi Arabia, said that the Syrian government planned to execute a terror attack in Mecca several months ago.

The Foreign Ministry, however, said that the man, who was allegedly working at the Syrian consulate, “had never been a Syrian diplomat as he claimed but rather a former domestic employee with a service contract.”

It added that the man, and those who stand behind him, aims, by fabricating this speech, to encroach upon Syria’s steadfastness in the face of the conspiracy it is subject to and harm the brotherly and solid ties between the Syrian and Saudi peoples.”

Syria’s conflict has started as peaceful protests in March 2011, but quickly turned into armed insurgency and civil conflict, especially in recent months with the influx of armed jihadists into the country to fight alongside the rebels. A recent UN tally placed the death toll of Syria’s conflict at more than 60,000 people.

In another endeavor by the Syrian government to facilitate the commencement of a national dialogue that could bring the prolonged conflict to a close, Syria’s higher judicial committee announced Sunday that it would halt all legal pursuits against opposition figures who will take part in the impending national dialogue urged by President Bashar al-Assad.

In his latest address to the nation earlier in January, Assad struck out his three-point plan for political solution that includes: a ceasefire, followed by a comprehensive national dialogue conference, and the establishment of a broad-based govern ment and parliament.

The plan, however, was dismissed by the adamant opposition, which conditioned the president’s departure as a prelude to political solution.

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