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21 Feb, 2012 07:07

Red Cross pushes for Syrian ceasefire

The International Red Cross is trying to broker a ceasefire in the areas of Syria most affected by the conflict. The organization is negotiating with both sides in an attempt to create a window of a few hours to deliver humanitarian aid to civilians.

The announcement comes amid opposition reports of regime forces amassing around the besieged city of Homs, raising fears of a major ground assault that will use overwhelming firepower to obliterate the opposition.Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of activist group The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told the Associated Press that “the human loss is going to be huge if [government forces] retake Baba Amr.”

Reuters news agency says 16 people have been killed in heavy shelling of the Baba Amr neighborhood in the city of Homs on Tuesday. It was not immediately clear whether the intense shelling was the start of a widely expected offensive to crush rebels in the area. Phone lines have been cut within the city, making it difficult to get firsthand accounts from Homs residents, reports the AP.

The Red Cross is the only international aid agency that operates in Syria and has been delivering humanitarian help to civilians in the country since the beginning of the uprising against President Assad. However, the group has had difficulties reaching the most affected areas.As the upheaval continues, Russia, which previously blocked a UN Security Council resolution along with China, has said it is resolved to finding a diplomatic solution to the conflict."The UN Security Council is contemplating strategies and could undertake concrete steps aimed at solving humanitarian issues, relying, among other things, on the fact that Damascus allowed the Red Cross to bring humanitarian aid to some regions," Russian representative to the UN, Vitaly Churkin told TV station Vesti.

Reforms and diplomacy fall on deaf ears

Up until now efforts to curtail rising tensions in Syria have been fruitless. President Bashar al-Assad’s announcement of an urgent referendum on a draft constitution has so far done little to abate the violence. The document seeks to meet opposition demands, stipulating an end the Baath Party political monopoly and two-term limit on future presidents.RT correspondent Maria Finoshina is examining how the new draft constitution is causing controversy amongst the Syrian people. Many worry that the document will create more rifts between the country’s religious groups. Public debates have been opened in Damascus on the draft constitution to bring the people and the authors of the document together.“People don’t trust referendum and reforms. They're simply not used to it. We tell them that this is the new Syria,” Yazam Hakim, one of the debate organizers told RT.The opposition has condemned the document and called for the Syrian people to boycott it.However, Alastair Crooke, founder of the Conflicts Forum, told RT the referendum represents a change in the Western states’ policy towards Syria.  Instead of encouraging the opposition simply to bring down the Syrian state, Crooke says the document represents a path of reform which is supported by up to two-thirds of the population.“Most Syrians want to see changes taking place, but they don’t want to see civil war…They’ve seen too clearly what happened in Libya in the recent NATO intervention.  And the people who are calling for external intervention mostly are not inside Syria, it is mostly the exile groups, the Syrian National Council and some of their allies that are calling for military intervention.”Furthermore, a meeting of the so-called Friends of Syria group has been scheduled for this Friday in Tunisia. This will be the group’s first official meeting after China and Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that called for the removal of President Assad. The possibility of supplying the opposition with arms is expected to the main topic of discussion at the meeting, with the international community divided over the issue.There have been increasing reports of militants and Al-Qaeda insurgents crossing over from Syria’s neighboring countries to bolster opposition forces.With the appearance of extremist groups many experts believe that the arming of the fragmented opposition in Syria could topple the country into civil war.