Red Cross granted access to Syrian prison

Permission to visit detention centre for first time granted following talks between ICRC head and President Assad.

    Kellenberger says he discussed the use of force by security forces during his meeting with Assad on Monday [Reuters]

    The International Committee of the Red Cross, or ICRC, has said it has been granted access for the first time to a Syrian detention centre.

    The ICRC has described the decision as aimed at ensuring that "detainees are treated humanely and that their dignity is respected and preserved" in Syria, thousands of whom have been arrested during the country's six-month-old protest movement.

    "The Syrian authorities have granted the ICRC access to a place of detention for the first time," Jakob Kellenberger, the ICRC president, said in a statement following talks with the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, on Monday.

    He said the ICRC was able to visit the Damascus Central Prison in the suburb of Adra on Sunday.

    "Initially, we will have access to persons detained by the ministry of the interior, and we are hopeful that we will soon be able to visit all detainees," Kellenberger said.

    "This is an important step forward for our humanitarian activities in Syria."

    Subjects of discussions

    During meetings with al-Assad, Kellenberger said he discussed the use of force by security forces and the need to respect the physical and psychological well-being of the detainees, as well as the latest developments in the country since his last visit in June.

    Kellenberger said that his main concern was to ensure that the wounded and sick are able to obtain medical care.

    More than 2,200 people have been killed in Syria since almost daily mass protests began on March 15, according to the United Nations, and activists say over 10,000 have been arrested.

    Leaked US diplomatic cable describes Syrian officials as notorious 'liars'

    According to Amnesty international, the London-based human-rights group, the number of deaths in Syrian prisons rose sharply in 2011, describing it as one of the "most shocking features" of the regime's crackdown.

    "No less than 88 such deaths have been reported to Amnesty International as occurring during the period from April 1 and August 15," including 10 children aged between 13 and 18, Amnesty International said at the end of August.

    For at least 52 of them, it said, "there is evidence that torture caused or contributed to the deaths".

    On the ground, there appears to be no let-up in the crackdown on pro-democracy supporters.

    Security forces raided homes and made sweeping arrests in villages near the Turkish border during a manhunt for an attorney general who recently joined the country's protest movement, activists said.

    The search for Adnan Bakkour, the most senior Syrian official to defect to the opposition, came after he appeared in a video last week criticising the government for its violent crackdown on dissent and announced his resignation.

    Ambulances sent

    Omar Idilbi, a spokesman for the Local Co-ordination Committees, a Syrian opposition group, said at least one person among hundreds trying flee across the border to Turkey was killed during the military raids.

    The governor's office in the southern Turkish province of Hatay sent ambulances to the border to pick up wounded people from the incident, Turkish television said, without specifying the number of injured.

    Syria has banned foreign journalists, making it difficult to independently verify reports.

    Security forces also launched an assault on the central cities of Hama and Homs, where they shot dead at least six people on Monday, activists said.

    "More than 30 military vehicles and security forces raided Hama this morning and heavy gunfire was heard in the city," Omar Idlibi, spokesman of the Local Co-ordination Committees, an opposition group, said. A similar operation was carried out in Homs, he said.

    Earlier on Monday, residents reported hearing heavy gunfire from clashes between soldiers who defected to the opposition and other troops at a military airport in the Mezzeh district of Damascus.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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