Red Cross urges swift evacuation of Syria's dead and wounded

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) urged both sides in Syria's civil war on Monday to allow swift evacuation of the dead and wounded, many of them civilians, who often lie abandoned for days or months in intense urban fighting.

The ICRC reminded the government and the rebels that international humanitarian law requires bodies to be removed promptly and respectfully, and the injured to be evacuated for treatment.

"We ... call on the conflict parties to spare civilians and permit them to be withdrawn to safety and to allow the wounded to be evacuated and dead bodies to be recovered," Magne Barth, new head of the ICRC delegation in Syria, said in a statement issued in Geneva.

Three weeks ago, local commanders in Syria's biggest city, Aleppo, called their first brief truce in months to let aid workers collect 31 bodies that had been rotting amid the rubble of the front line.

Arab Red Crescent volunteers actually evacuate the casualties, but the ICRC provides body bags and technical advice on how to handle decomposed bodies to help with their identification later.

"The failure to identify the dead means that more people remain unaccounted for, and that the families will not be able to mourn their dead," said Andres Patino, the ICRC's regional forensic adviser.

The United Nations estimated in mid-February that 70,000 had been killed in the civil war, now in its third year. The ICRC says morgues and hospitals are overwhelmed.

In a sign of heavy fighting around Damascus in April, the ICRC said that it had donated enough intravenous fluid to hospitals in the capital to treat 800 wounded patients.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Kevin Liffey)