syria refugees.jpg
Photograph: EPA/YOUSSEF BADAWI

Syria is suffering from "enormous destruction" and constant humanitarian access must be provided to areas that have been under siege, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told dpa on Saturday.

"The situation is tight, and it's obvious that normal life is far away," Peter Maurer said after a five-day visit to Syria.

"What all of the people in those areas have told me is that they just want the war to end," he continued.

Maurer, who arrived in Damascus on Monday on his fourth visit to the country in four years, also visited the central city of Homs and posted photographs and videos on Twitter of bombed out hospitals and ghost towns.

The Red Cross chief said his organization has lately been able to access several besieged areas, including Madaya where images and reports of starvation shocked the world at the beginning of the year.

Activists in the town near the Lebanese border said at the time that residents had been reduced to eating grass and leaves in order to survive after government forces imposed a strict siege.

"There are different intensities of sieges," Maurer explained. They range "from full siege, also for humanitarian organization like ICRC, to partial siege, where coming and going of the citizens is strictly controlled, and some goods are available."

Under the terms of the partial ceasefire that went into effect at midnight (2200 GMT Friday), the Syrian government and participating rebel groups must allow humanitarian agencies full and rapid access throughout the areas they control.

Maurer said that cooperation with the Syrian government for aid deliveries, as well as in other areas such as prison visits, has improved, but there was further room for improvement.

"To prevent a permanent lack of supply it is necessary that we get access to the [besieged] areas for constant aid deliveries," he stressed.

The humanitarian chief said the destruction he saw in "the former centre" of Homs was "extreme."

"There is almost no building that hasn't been destroyed, and this obviously in what was previously densely populated area," Maurer said of the area which was evacuated by rebel fighters under a local deal almost two years ago.

"No one is living anymore in this part of the city, and you have the impression that it has become a ghost city in ruins," he said, adding that "in many places in Syria there has been enormous destruction."

Maurer, wrote on Twitter on his last day in the country: "The war in Syria has destroyed many lives, and many places. The people I met this week showed me that it has not destroyed humanity."

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