Civilians face dramatically worsening conditions in Syria

GENEVA Fri Aug 31, 2012 9:19pm IST

1 of 2. Demonstrators hold Syrian opposition flags and placards during a protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Sermeen, near Idlib, August 31, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Shaam News Network/Handout

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GENEVA (Reuters) - Syrian civilians' living conditions are worsening dramatically, as it becomes harder to obtain food and escape fighting which caused a record death toll of 1,600 in the past week, aid agencies said on Friday.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, whose 50 aid workers in Syria are confined to Damascus because of the lack of security, has been unable to send out convoys with supplies for the past two weeks, ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan said.

"The (humanitarian) situation in many parts of Syria is currently edging towards irreversible deterioration. Assisting the fast-growing number of needy people is a top priority," the ICRC said in a statement.

Tens of thousands of civilians forced to flee fighting have been displaced in recent weeks and most are completely dependent on assistance, it said.

"People suffer every day. Many have lost their jobs, others their breadwinner. It is difficult to meet even basic food needs and to obtain other essentials," the ICRC said.

Marianne Gasser, head of the ICRC delegation in Syria, said that fighting in the capital Damascus had escalated relentlessly since mid-July. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent is still delivering aid to displaced in Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Idlib and elsewhere.

"People fear for their lives every minute of the day," she said.

Increasing numbers of injured are succumbing to their wounds, unable to get medical care due to the conflict or lack of medical supplies or health services, the ICRC said.

"Health care facilities that are still functioning are finding it more and more difficult to cope with the numbers of injured patients," it said.

An estimated 1.2 million people are uprooted within Syria, including 150,000 in Damascus and surrounding areas, according to the United Nations.

RECORD DEATH TOLL

"Syria witnessed in the past week an escalation of violence particularly in Damascus. A record death toll of 1,600 persons was reported, including children," Patrick McCormick of the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) told a news briefing in Geneva, citing a U.N. document.

Nearly 229,000 Syrian refugees have fled abroad during the 17-month-old conflict so far, crossing into four neighbouring countries (Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey) - a jump of 100,000 in the past month alone, the U.N. refugee agency said on Friday.

"Across the region we are continuing to see a steady rise in the numbers of people leaving Syria. We've seen an increase particularly in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley over the last week," said Adrian Edwards, spokesman of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

"Three thousand people a day coming across the borders into other countries is a very, very significant refugee crisis," he said.

France plans to channel aid to rebel-held parts of Syria so that these "liberated zones" can administer themselves and staunch an outflow of refugees, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.

"UNICEF is deeply concerned that in Syria and surrounding regions we may be or are looking at one of the biggest humanitarian emergencies in the last decade," UNICEF's McCormick said, citing major challenges in providing shelter, clean water and sanitation.

"Obviously, we can't tackle that emergency in the way that we'd like until there is a political solution," he added.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Myra MacDonald)

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