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Charity says Syrian troops seizing foreign aid

Last modified: 7 Nov 2012 23:09

A medical aid group said on Wednesday Syrian troops are seizing foreign aid and reselling it or channeling it towards government loyalists, putting millions of lives at risk.

"When the regime attacks one of our medical facilities, whether it's a hospital or something else, they load up everything they can carry, and they burn the rest," said Tawfik Chamaa, a Geneva-based doctor and spokesman for the Union of Syrian Medical Relief Organizations (UOSSM).

"They take as much as they can, and that just depends on how many soldiers they have, but most of the time they resell it on the black market," he told a news briefing in Geneva.

The International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN World Food Programme (WFP), global aid agencies with a presence in Syria, said two specific allegations that Chamaa made about other foreign aid being diverted were unsubstantiated.

But the ICRC said it was treating them "very seriously" and following them up with the UOSSM and Syrian authorities.

The UOSSM, as it is known by its French initials, has set up 30 field hospitals and plans to open 30 more, as well as working with local clinics and health workers, but often has to operate secretly to avoid being targeted, Chamaa said.

He said the stolen aid, as well as other items such as electrical goods looted from abandoned homes, is sold off in black market bazaars in relatively quiet towns in Syria.

Public hospitals treat only supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, leaving the rest - those who do not support him against rebels waging a 19-month-old uprising - to fend for
themselves, Chamaa said.

"So we are setting up these first-aid points, these secret hospitals, at our own risk, to meet the needs of the rest - the civilians who have been shelled, women and children, people who
can't get to public hospitals for whatever reason, knowing that a wounded person who goes into a public hospital risks being arrested or executed, because they'll be seen as the enemy."
He said the government was intercepting large amounts of aid because many donors insisted on going via "recognised" organisations rather than clandestinely like the UOSSM, which
has funding from European governments including Switzerland.