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Syria war likely to drag on, Red Cross president says

A Free Syrian Army fighter rides his bicycle in Daraya town near Damascus June 20, 2013. REUTERS/Mohamed Demashki
A Free Syrian Army fighter rides his bicycle in Daraya town near Damascus June 20, 2013. REUTERS/Mohamed Demashki

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - The Red Cross said on Thursday it was planning humanitarian operations for an extended conflict in Syria in the absence of any sign of a political solution and military stalemate between rebels and government troops.

Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said that the aid agency had urged major powers to try to stop all sides from committing violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes.

He saw no reason to expect the 27-month-old conflict to end anytime soon.

"We don't see where a political solution should easily come from. And that's the reason why we would rather calculate for a longer conflict," Maurer told a news conference. "Even if we would find a solution tomorrow, Syria would need badly much more humanitarian assistance than what is delivered today."

International mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, who held talks with senior U.S. and Russian officials in Geneva on Tuesday, has ruled out convening a peace conference before August at best.

"What we have seen over the past couple of weeks, what we observe as ICRC on the ground, is a stalemate between the two sides in Syria," Maurer said. "Sometimes it's the one side, sometimes it's the other side, and in the rare moment where both probably are at a balance of forces there is a glimmer of hope that they come to the negotiating table.

"But the glimmer of hope normally disappears when the one side or the other side is making a military advance in one or the other city," he said.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces have retaken a town on the Lebanese border as they press an offensive against rebels in a conflict that has now cost more than 100,000 lives, activists said on Wednesday.

The fall of Tel Kalakh, two miles from the border with Lebanon, marks another gain for Assad after the capture of the rebel stronghold of Qusair this month, and consolidates his control around the central city of Homs, which links Damascus to his Alawite heartland overlooking the Mediterranean coast.

Each side is encouraged to make military gains, Maurer said, adding: "And because it is encouraged to win over the other, it is encouraged to violate international humanitarian law."

The ICRC has begun a political discussion with states that have signed the Geneva Conventions to persuade their "partners and allies" in Syria of the need to respect international humanitarian law laying down the rules of war, he said.

"I think that without major countries exerting the most and the best possible influence on the parties on Syria, we won't see a change in the pattern of violence. And without a moving together also of those important countries we won't see a political solution," Maurer said, without naming names.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay)

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