DAMASCUS: International Committee of the Red Cross chief Jakob Kellenberger on Tuesday requested access to Syria’s prisons, in a meeting with Interior Minister Mohammed Al-Shaar, official media reported.
The meeting focused on how the ministry can facilitate the ICRC’s work in Syria “regarding the inspection of penal facilities and meeting inmates in them,” particularly in Aleppo, Syria’s second city, the SANA news agency said.
Kellenberger said he hoped to visit prisons in Syria as he had done on a previous trip, “in coordination with the Syrian Red Crescent, to guarantee the best possible conditions of detention” for inmates, the report said.
The Syrian authorities allowed the ICRC to visit the central prison in Damascus for the first time last year, which the organization said at the time was an “important step” for its humanitarian activities in Syria.
Earlier on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Walid Muallem told the visiting Red Cross chief that Syria would do its utmost to ensure the success of the ICRC mission to the strife-torn country.
The ICRC has been pushing for a daily humanitarian truce in the year-long conflict in Syria.
“Mr Muallem… reiterated Syria’s willingness to provide the ICRC with all that is needed to ensure the success of its humanitarian mission,” his office said in a statement.
It added that the two sides had agreed on a “cooperation mechanism” between the ICRC, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the foreign ministry to overcome any obstacles, without giving details.
“Kellenberger for his part expressed his appreciation to Syrian authorities for allowing the ICRC access to areas affected by the unrest in order to provide assistance to those in need,” said the statement.
Ahead of his third trip to Syria since 2011, Kellenberger said he was “determined to see the ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent expand their presence, range and scope of activities to address the needs of vulnerable people.
“This will be a key element of my talks with the Syrian officials,” he said in a statement.
Beyond discussing aid issues, Kellenberger would also seek access to detention centers as well as examining “practical measures for implementing our initiative for a daily two-hour cessation of fighting,” the statement said.
The ICRC has been central in pushing for the humanitarian truce, with Kellenberger travelling to Moscow to get Syria’s key ally to back the idea.
He also visited the United States last week where he discussed the situation in Syria with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
According to UN estimates, more than 9,000 people have died in the Damascus regime’s crackdown on the 12-month uprising, inspired by Arab Spring protests that toppled long-time dictators in Tunisia and Egypt.