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June 28, 2017

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Red Cross chief heads to Syria on mission of mercy as violence rages

DAMASCUS -- Red Cross chief Peter Maurer was in Syria on a mercy mission seeking greater protection for civilians on Tuesday, as a spate of bombings and clashes brought fresh bloodshed to the capital and second city Aleppo.

Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), met President Bashar al-Assad and expressed concern over the humanitarian situation in Syria, ICRC spokesman Hisham Hassan said.

During the 45-minute meeting he also urged respect for international humanitarian law and the need to boost assistance on the ground, Hassan said in a statement.

State television said Assad told Maurer that he supports the work of the ICRC in Syria so long as it remains "impartial and independent."

"President Assad assured (Maurer) that he welcomed the humanitarian operations carried out by the committee on the ground in Syria, as long as it remains impartial and independent," it said.

Maurer arrived Monday evening in Damascus for his first visit to the war-torn country since taking over the post on July 1. Besides Assad, he has also met with Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad and was scheduled to hold talks with other Syrian officials.

The visit comes amid a surge in violence in the past weeks across Syria, where according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights more than 5,000 people were killed in the month of August alone.

Also in August, more than 100,000 people fled the war-torn country to seek refuge in neighboring countries, the U.N. refugee agency said on Tuesday.

It was the highest monthly figure since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in March last year, a UNHCR spokeswoman said in Geneva.

The Britain-based Observatory, which relies on its information from a network of activists on the ground, said 153 people died countrywide on Monday — 81 civilians, including 19 children and 14 women, 42 soldiers and 30 rebels.

Among those killed was an entire family — including seven children — when a government air raid hit their home in the heart of Aleppo, witnesses told an AFP correspondent in the city.

A fighter jet also struck in nearby Al-Bab, killing at least 18 people, with more unaccounted for beneath the rubble of flattened homes, the Observatory said. Doctors said nine people died.

An activist said that on Tuesday, several districts of the northern city were bombarded with artillery and mortar fire as was an area near Aleppo airport.

A senior commander in charge of the regime offensive on Aleppo told AFP that the army would recapture the city from the rebel forces "within 10 days."

Some 3,000 troops were involved in the fight against about 7,000 "terrorists," said the general, adding that 2,000 of the insurgents had been killed since the assault on Aleppo was launched at the start of August.

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