ICRC aid reaches isolated Syrian town near Damascus, conditions 'dire'

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The International Committee of the Red Cross on Thursday described living conditions in a Syrian town cut off near Damascus as dire after delivering aid there this week for the first time in six months. The ICRC entered the insurgent-held town of Mouadamiya, southwest of Damascus, along with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) and delivered medicines for chronic diseases to treat around 5,000 patients. It also brought in medicines for children and medical equipment to help pregnant women during delivery. But it said around 40,000 people inside were still in urgent need of basic services including water and electricity. It was the first time the ICRC had been able to deliver aid to the besieged town since December. "The humanitarian situation is desperate," Marianne Gasser, head of the ICRC in Syria, said in a statement. She said the streets were empty and shops shuttered in a town that has had no electricity for two years. "There is virtually no water and food is hard to come by...There is virtually no access to proper health care." It was a snapshot of the human disaster wrought by four years of uprising and civil war in Syria. A U.N. report issued last month said the conflict had killed over 220,000 people and left 12.2 million of the 22 million population in need of humanitarian aid as well as a third of the population homeless. The ICRC said it had also been able to deliver food to collective kitchens run by SARC and other charities in and around Aleppo in Syria's north and to airlift medical equipment with SARC from Damascus to Hasaka in northeastern Syria, which it said was inaccessible by road. The ICRC's president said in March that the group had "well-established contacts" with the Syrian government and "reasonably good cooperation" in terms of it granting permission for convoys, visas and imports. Aid groups have to work carefully in Syria alongside the government or local aid organizations and have been pushing to reach populations across conflict lines. This week Oxfam said it was seeking greater access for its water projects in the country after a visit to Damascus. (Reporting by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Mark Heinrich)