(DAMASCUS, Syria) — The International Committee of the Red Cross has stepped into the crossfire between the Syrian government and opposition forces to demand that the two sides institute an immediate ceasefire.
The plea came as President Bashar al-Assad appeared poised to launch an all-out assault on the city of Homs ahead of a planned referendum on a new constitution. Syria’s third largest city has suffered the most fatalities since the crackdown on pro-democracy dissidents began 11 months ago.
Red Cross spokeswoman Carla Haddad insisted that her group’s call for the two sides to temporarily stop fighting was not an attempt to negotiate a conflict-ending deal. Instead, the Red Cross is more concerned with bringing assistance to people in areas of Syria that have been hardest hit by the low-grade civil war.
While the Red Cross awaits an answer, al-Assad seems ready to crush the opposition in Homs, the biggest thorn in his side as he tries to retain his 11-year hold on power.
Condemnation by the Arab League and most of the international community has not deterred the fighting in Syria, which has only increased in recent weeks.
As for the referendum al-Assad plans to roll out next Sunday, most believe it will be chock full of empty rhetoric and hollow promises as previous proposals.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Roshni Majumdar, CNN
Madison Park and Steve Almasy, CNN
Chandrika Narayan and Steve Almasy, CNN