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Jan 22, 2014

Syria peace conference opens, divided over Assad

MONTREUX, Switzerland (Reuters) – Syria’s government and its enemies came face to face on Wednesday for the first time as a peace conference began in Switzerland which world powers hope can at least start a process to end three years of civil war.

There was immediate evidence of sharp differences, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry insisted that President Bashar al-Assad must step down, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov cautioned against outsiders meddling in Syria’s affairs.

Jan 20, 2014

Red Cross ready to step up Syria aid, help prisoner swaps

GENEVA (Reuters) – The Red Cross is ready to deliver aid to besieged towns in Syria and facilitate prisoner exchanges if the warring sides agree to confidence-building measures at peace talks in Switzerland, a senior official told Reuters on Monday.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said on Friday he had handed Russia plans for a ceasefire with rebel forces in Syria’s biggest city, Aleppo, and was ready to exchange lists on a possible prisoner swap.

Jan 16, 2014

Vatican grilled over scale of child sex abuse

GENEVA (Reuters) – United Nations child protection experts pushed Vatican delegates on Thursday to reveal the scope of the decades-long sexual abuse of minors by Roman Catholic priests that Pope Francis called “the shame of the Church”.

The delegates, answering questions from an international rights panel for the first time since the scandals broke more than two decades ago, denied allegations of a Vatican cover-up and said it had set clear guidelines to protect children from predator priests.

Jan 16, 2014

Vatican pushed to reveal scope of child sexual abuse

GENEVA (Reuters) – United Nations child protection experts grilled Vatican delegates on Thursday on how Roman Catholic officials handled the decades-long sexual abuse of minors by priests that Pope Francis called “the shame of the Church”.

The officials, called to account for the first time since the Holy See signed the U.N. children’s rights charter in 1990, argued that the Church recognized the problem and had drawn up clear guidelines to protect children from predator priests.

Jan 14, 2014

U.N. feeds record 3.8 million in Syria but concerned by malnutrition

GENEVA (Reuters) – The U.N.’s World Food Programme (WFP) delivered rations to a record 3.8 million people in Syria in December, but civilians in eastern provinces and besieged towns near the capital remain out of reach, a spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

The agency voiced concern at reports of malnutrition in besieged areas, especially of children caught up in the nearly three-year-old civil war, and called for greater access.

Jan 13, 2014

Fighting halts polio vaccination in northern Syria

GENEVA (Reuters) – Heavy fighting has prevented health workers from getting polio vaccine to an estimated 100,000 Syrian children in the northeastern province of Raqqa, United Nations aid agencies said on Monday, appealing for access.

The crippling infectious disease was confirmed in 15 children in Syria in October, the first outbreak there since 1999. A nationwide campaign was launched in November to vaccinate some 2 million Syrian children under five each month until May.

Dec 20, 2013

Brahimi says he could work around Iranian absence from Syria talks

GENEVA (Reuters) – Iran remains a sticking point in plans for a conference to end the conflict in Syria, international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said on Friday, with the United States still refusing to agree to Iran’s presence when talks begin on Jan 22.

“On Iran, we haven’t agreed yet. But it is no secret that we in the United Nations welcome the participation of Iran,” Brahimi told a news conference in Geneva.

Dec 19, 2013

Secret detentions fuel Syrian ‘campaign of terror’: U.N.

GENEVA (Reuters) – Syrian activists and other citizens have vanished into secret detention as part of a “widespread campaign of terror against the civilian population” and a tactic of war by the Damascus government, U.N. investigators said on Thursday.

The state-run practice of enforced disappearances in Syria – abductions that are officially denied – is systematic enough to amount to a crime against humanity, they said in a report.

Dec 19, 2013

Iran and Russia helping Syrian aid effort: European officials

GENEVA (Reuters) – Iran and Russia have used their influence on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government to get visas for U.N. aid workers and improve access for convoys in Syria, but much remains to be done, senior European officials told Reuters on Thursday.

U.S. officials were more cautious, saying that “all voices” taking part in secretive U.N. talks aimed at bringing food and medical supplies to civilians in out-of-reach areas are critical. There was limited progress in recent weeks, they said.

Dec 19, 2013

Secret detention part of Syria ‘campaign of terror:’ U.N.

GENEVA (Reuters) – Syrian activists and other citizens have vanished into secret detention as part of a “widespread campaign of terror against the civilian population” by the Damascus government, U.N. investigators said on Thursday.

The state-run practice of enforced disappearances in Syria -

abductions that are officially denied – is systematic enough to amount to a crime of humanity, they said in a report.