- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 22, 2012

GENEVA — The International Committee of the Red Cross said Wednesday that it was holding a meeting with Syria’s main opposition group in Geneva, a day after the humanitarian agency called for temporary cease-fires so it can bring in emergency aid and evacuate the wounded and sick from affected areas.

Russia, which has opposed harsher international measures to end Syrian President Bashar Assad’s crackdown on anti-government protests, voiced support Wednesday for a daily two-hour humanitarian cease-fire in Syria.

Red Cross spokesman Hisham Hassan said the meeting with members of the Syrian National Council was part of the aid group’s efforts to “be in touch with all those who might have an impact in Syria.”

The Red Cross says negotiations with Syrian authorities and opposition groups are at a very early stage. Its head of operations for the Middle East, Beatrice Megevand-Roggo, said Tuesday that the ICRC had almost no contacts with opposition figures inside Syria.

“Therefore we have to look for contacts outside Syria, and that takes time,” she told The Associated Press.

SNC spokeswoman Bassma Kodmani told reporters in Paris on Wednesday that the opposition group increasingly believes armed foreign military intervention may be the only way to end the bloodshed — but stopped short of calling for it.

The Syrian National Council is also calling for international efforts to deliver humanitarian assistance into the violence-wracked country, and wants Russia to make a diplomatic push allowing for aid convoys.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Alexander Lukashevich, said Wednesday that Russia was using its contacts with both the Syrian government and the opposition to help settle humanitarian issues. He reaffirmed Moscow’s proposal to send a special United Nations envoy to Syria to help coordinate the delivery of humanitarian aid.

But Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov later criticized the idea of “humanitarian corridors,” saying that potential differences over safe zones could lead to the escalation of violence.

Gatilov criticized Friday’s “Friends of Syria” conference in Tunisia, saying that its organizers made a mistake by failing to invite representatives of the Syrian government. He also blamed unspecified powers for arming the Syrian opposition, saying the weapons deliveries were fueling the conflict.

Russia and China have vetoed two Security Council resolutions backing Arab League plans aimed at ending the conflict and condemning President Assad’s crackdown on protests.

The United Nations estimated that 5,400 people have been killed in the 11-month uprising against Assad and his government in the last year. Hundreds more have died since, activists groups say.

Jamey Keaten in Paris and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed.

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