Syrians struggle with food, fuel shortages after decade of war - Red Cross

FILE PHOTO: Internally displaced Syrian child plays with snow, at a camp in Northern Aleppo countryside, Syria January 20, 2021. REUTERS/Mahmoud Hassano

GENEVA (Reuters) - A decade after Syria's conflict began, families struggle more than ever to buy food while ambulances lack fuel to bring wounded and COVID-19 patients to hospital, Red Cross and Red Crescent officials said on Thursday.

"Syria is in a deadly spiral of warfare, economic downturn, pandemic and sanctions," International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) President Peter Maurer told a news conference. "Close to three-quarters of the population now need humanitarian assistance, an increase of 20% compared to 12 months ago."

Of Syria's current population of some 18 million, 13.4 million rely on aid, U.N. figures show.

Syria has seen a sharp rise in COVID-19 infections since mid-February but lockdown options remain limited due to the country's dire economic situation, a member of the country's coronavirus advisory committee said in Damascus on Thursday.

Khaled Hboubati, President of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, said Western sanctions on the government of President Bashar al-Assad also hindered imports of medical equipment and medicines.

"The lack of fuel means that there are no ambulances to bring patients to hospital," said Francesco Rocca, President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. "Without power it is impossible to safely store blood or, one day, the vaccines."

Maurer said ICRC officials continue to visit people held in Syria's central prisons but had no access to unofficial detention centres on all sides.

Prisoner exchanges, clarifying the fate of tens of thousands of missing and identification of dead bodies were vital preconditions for meaningful talks to end the war, he said and needed to be done urgently.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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