In January, inspired by democratic uprisings around the Middle East and North Africa, Syrian citizens started a series of protests in the autocratic country. In response, the Syrian government launched a brutal crackdown against the demonstrators. This crackdown is nothing short of a military operation, using live ammunition, tanks, and helicopter gunships. Syrian human rights organizations claim up to 1,300 people have died and up to 10,000 detained since the uprising began. In the town of Dara’a, a reported five thousand residents are being held in a makeshift prison camp at the local sports stadium.

Yesterday, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent (ICRC) announced that it has reached an agreement with the government of Syria for expanded access to areas of conflict in the country. This move is an important step in providing health and humanitarian services to civilians injured in the fighting. Why? Because of the ICRC’s position of neutrality. In Bahrain and elsewhere, protesters receiving treatment at state hospitals have been arrested right out of their hospital beds. For this reason, protesters in Syria have good reason to avoid getting medical care at hospitals. With the expanded ICRC presence, demonstrators will have a source of health care they can trust will not turn them over to government security forces.

Syria’s crackdown shows no signs of letting up. The intensity of the conflict has only increased, with June seeing some of the most aggressive operations against protestors. In times like these, the ability of the wounded to receive health care is cruel, and tenuous. Good to see the ICRC is working hard to protect it.

Photo credit: Mike Thompson

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