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Red Cross pressing for aid access in Syria

BEIRUT — The International Committee of the Red Cross pressed Syrian authorities Tuesday to allow aid workers greater access to detainees and civilians endangered by the country's conflict.

ICRC president Jakob Kellenberger was to meet Syria's foreign, interior and health ministers on Tuesday as well as the head of the local Red Cross branch.

He has said he is appealing for greater access to the sick, wounded and displaced, as well as for a two-hour daily halt to the fighting to allow aid access — one of the conditions of international envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan.

The U.N. estimates more than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria's uprising against President Bashar Assad, which began as peaceful protests in March 2011 but has escalated into armed conflict.

Diplomacy has failed to stop the violence. Annan has set an April 10 deadline for full compliance with his plan to end the violence in Syria. He also told the U.N. Security Council at a closed door briefing Monday that Damascus has agreed to withdraw its troops from cities by that date, reversing its previous refusal to implement the measure, diplomats said.

Annan's plan to end Syria's crisis calls for an immediate withdrawal of troops and heavy military equipment from populated areas, followed by an overall cease-fire — first by government forces and then by opposition fighters — to pave the way for talks by all Syrian parties on a political solution. It includes an immediate daily two-hour halt to fighting so humanitarian aid can reach suffering civilians, and unhindered access for humanitarian groups and the media.

Assad agreed to the plan but rejected a later appeal by Annan for the government to lay down its weapons first.

The opposition is deeply skeptical that Assad will abide by the terms of the plan, describing his acceptance as another attempt to buy time while government troops continue their assault on the rebels. The U.S. and other Western nations also have expressed doubt that Assad will keep his word.

The regime has agreed to a peace plan several times over the past few months, only to ignore it on the ground.

An Arab League effort, which included sending monitors to work for a cease-fire, also collapsed in violence in November.