ICRC hopes to meet jailed Syrians as Assad to go on TV

DVBP378 4 PW 0686 SYR /AFP-VM73 Syria-politics-unrest 2ndlead-WRAP ICRC hopes to meet jailed Syrians as Assad to go on TV =(Graphic+Picture)= ATTENTION - RECASTS with ICRC /// DAMASCUS, Aug 21, 2011 (AFP) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was to speak on television Sunday after Western powers pressed him to quit over the brutal crackdown on dissent, as a UN humanitarian team visited the country and the Red Cross hoped to visit prisoners soon. Officials told AFP the embattled president would appear on television in the evening after the "iftar" meal that breaks the Muslim Ramadan fast, which has been a time of near-daily protests against Assad's regime. "President Bashar al-Assad is to give the Syrian Arab TV Sunday a comprehensive dialogue-interview about the current situation in Syria, the ongoing reform process, and about the implications of US and Western pressures on Syria politically and economically," the state-run SANA news agency reported. Assad's television appearance will be his first since June 20, and only his fourth since the start of pro-democracy demonstrations in mid-March, and will come days several world leaders urged him to quit. The UN mission began its first full day in Damascus on Sunday, arriving the previous evening to assess humanitarian needs in the wake of the crackdowns, which have left more than 2,000 people dead. The team, led by the head of the Geneva bureau of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Rashid Khalikov, began its mission on Sunday and will stay until August 25, said OCHA spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs. Speaking on the telephone from Geneva, she said the mission's objectives were "to see how the UN can support public services and how it can respond to possible humanitarian needs," such as electricity, drinking water, communications and health. The visit comes after 34 anti-regime protesters were killed on Friday by security forces as anti-regime rallies gripped the country after weekly Muslim prayers, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It said about half of the deaths were in Homs province, where tanks rumbled into the central city of the same name on Saturday. US President Barack Obama called on Thursday for Assad to quit, a demand quickly echoed by the leaders of Britain, France and Germany and Spain. Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross expressed hopes its delegates would soon visit Syrians jailed since the start of the protests. "There have been discussions with the authorities and we are confident that we will be able to start the visits very soon," Red Cross spokesman Saleh Dabbakeh told AFP in the Syrian capital without elaborating. Rights groups say that more than 10,000 people are behind bars in Syria, which has been gripped by almost daily anti-regime protests since mid-March. Cracks meanwhile appeared among opponents of Assad as dissidents met in Istanbul to launch a "national council" to coordinate the fight against his regime. "Calls for the formation of transitional councils or governments in exile at forums held inside (Syria) and abroad, have had nefarious and negative repercussions on the Syrian revolution," said the so-called Syrian Revolution General Commission which announced its creation Friday. The group has said it is made up of a coalition of 44 "revolutionary blocs" and has vowed to bring down the Assad regime. In Istanbul, dissident Obeida Nahhas, told AFP "the Syrian National Council will have between 115 and 150 members, more than half of whom are in Syria, with the reminder in exile." The latest anti-government rallies on Friday and Saturday put to the test assurances given by Assad to UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Thursday that his security forces had ended operations against civilians. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said Friday that there was now "evidence" of "crimes against humanity" committed in Syria, calling on the Security Council to seize the international justice. sk/afq/hkb AFP 211302 GMT AUG 11