The opposition says the government's security forces are responsible for a violent crackdown on protesters [File: AFP]

The International Committee of the Red Cross has demanded that the Syrian government investigate the murder of a top aid official who was killed in the country's northwest.

Abdulrazaq Jbeiro, the secretary-general of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and head of the aid group's branch in the northern-western province of Idlib, was shot dead on Wednesday.

Jbeiro had been travelling by car to Idlib after taking part in meetings in Damascus, the Syrian capital.

"The shooting occurred as he was returning to Idlib in a vehicle clearly marked with the red crescent emblem after attending meetings at Syrian Arab Red Crescent headquarters in Damascus," the ICRC said in a statement on its website.

The Red Cross expressed "shock" at the death, along with the Red Crescent, and called for "those involved in the violence that continues to rage in the country to spare Red Crescent and Red Cross volunteers and staff".

It said that the Syrian Arab Red Crescent president, Abdulrahman al-Attar, has "officially requested the Syrian authorities to launch an investigation into the death of Dr Jbeiro".

Work of 'terrorists'

The official Syrian news agency SANA reported soon after Jbeiro's death on Wednesday that he was assassinated by "a terrorist group" when they opened fire with a machine gun, shooting him in the head.

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Saleh Dabbakeh, a Red Cross spokesman in Damascus, said that it was not the first time a member of the humanitarian aid organisation had been attacked in the country.

"Just three months ago another volunteer was shot," he said. Dabbakeh urged all parties to refrain from targeting the aid workers, who have been "volunteering to save lives" during the country's unrest.

The Syrian government has continued to blame "armed groups aided from abroad" for the nationwide protests since they began in March of last year.

However, the opposition says the government's security forces are responsible for a violent 10-month crackdown on peaceful protests that has claimed thousands of civilian lives.

The ICRC's call for a probe into Jbeiro's death came as the government launched raids and continued sieges on protest hubs across the country, activist groups said.

'Starting a dialogue'

Security forces, backed by tanks, have reportedly tried to retake control of numerous suburbs of Damascus from the opposition on Thursday.

But they faced fierce armed resistance and clashed with the Free Syrian Army [FSA], an umbrella group mainly comprised of members of the country's security forces who have defected to protect civilians from the government crackdown, in the capital's districts of Douma, Arabeen, Zamalka, Jisreen, and Harasta.

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Hussein Makhlouf, the governor of rural Damascus, was quoted by the Reuters news agency as saying that the government will discuss a ceasefire with the opposition-controlled suburbs.

"We have started a dialogue with them, including some armed groups that are controlling positions there," Makhlouf said.

He also said that the authorities were using "the same approach as in Zabadani, so the same scenario will happen".

The Syrian government was recently forced to make a ceasefire deal with the opposition in the Damascus suburb of Zabadani after a series of clashes with the FSA there.

Meanwhile, heavy clashes between army defectors and government forces have continued in the central province of Homs and southern province of Deraa, where some activists say the Syrian military was forced to withdraw to the city's outskirts.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies