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Red Cross says civilian centers abused in conflict

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June 27, 2013 05:43 AM EST | AP

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GENEVA — Medical patients, students and religious observers are increasingly put in harm's way in armed conflicts around the world, the head of the Red Cross said Thursday.

Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said his organization is gravely worried about the rising misuse of hospitals, schools and religious centers in armed conflicts in Syria and other nations.

The increasing "weaponization of medical facilities" and similar misuse of schools, churches and mosques was one of the most worrisome trends during the past year, Maurer told reporters at Red Cross' headquarters.

He said armed forces and rebels in Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Mali and other nations have been bringing arms into such places, making them susceptible to military attack.

"I am not of the opinion that these patterns are happening by chance," said Maurer, who attributed the patterns – rising violations of international humanitarian law – to all sides gaining more encouragement to win rather than to reach a political settlement.

He emphasized that the global humanitarian organization's annual report for 2012 also shows an alarming and widening gap between the staggering needs of millions of people suffering from Syria's civil war, and the world's ability to help them.

Major conflicts like the one in Syria also tend to last longer which is "grinding down the civilian population year after year," Maurer said. "There is an inability to cope with the demands."