Damascus - Red Cross chief Peter Maurer held a 45 minute meeting with President Bashar Assad in Damascus on Tuesday during which he expressed concern over the humanitarian situation in Syria, an official said.
Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, during the meeting urged respect for international humanitarian law and the need to boost assistance on the ground in Syria, ICRC spokesperson Hisham Hassan said in a statement.
State television said that Assad told Maurer that he supports the work of the ICRC in Syria so long as it remains "impartial and independent".
"President Assad assured the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross that he welcomed the humanitarian operations carried out by the committee on the ground in Syria, as long as it remains impartial and independent," the report said.
Maurer arrived on Monday evening in Damascus for his first visit to the war-torn country since taking over the post on 1 July. Besides Assad, he has also met with Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad and was scheduled to hold talks with other Syrian officials.
ICRC spokesperson in Damascus, Rabab Rifai said earlier on Tuesday that Maurer's mission would "focus on increased humanitarian needs and to remind the belligerents of their obligation under international law related to the protection of civilians".
Building on achievements
Maurer, who is in Syria until Thursday, will not meet representatives of the opposition "at least under the framework of this visit", she said, adding however that he could make a "field trip".
In a statement issued on Monday in Geneva, Maurer said: "At a time when more and more civilians are being exposed to extreme violence, it is of the utmost importance that we and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent succeed in significantly scaling up our humanitarian response."
"It is vital that we build on what has already been achieved on the ground," he added.
His talks with Syrian officials will also deal with the difficulties the ICRC and the Red Crescent face as they try to reach people affected by the armed conflict, the ICRC said.
Maurer said he planned to bring up points agreed with the Syrian regime in April, including "expanded access to persons detained in Syria and the imperative necessity of helping civilians affected by hostilities".
Despite the difficult working conditions, the ICRC said it and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent had provided nearly 180 000 people with food in the hardest-hit parts of the country since mid-July.
Since the beginning of the year, the two organisations have provided relief items to more than 800 000 people and have helped more than one million people access clean water, it added.