Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Syria conflict: Half population urgently need aid - UN

BBC News online -- 15 January 2014
Syria humanitarian crisis explained
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says that half of Syria's population, some 9.3 million people, now "urgently need humanitarian aid".

He was speaking at a donor conference in Kuwait launching the UN's biggest ever appeal for a single crisis.

The UN is seeking $6.5bn (£4bn) - it raised $2.4bn by the end of Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Syria's deputy foreign minister has said Western intelligence agencies have held talks with Damascus on combating Islamist groups in Syria.

The growing influence of such groups among rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad has complicated the conflict and caused international concern.

The UK government denied having any such co-operation with Damascus.

Mr Ban said the conflict had "set back Syria years, even decades". He expressed particular concern about violence against women and girls, and reports of starvation among besieged communities.
"No country, no people should face hardship or calamity for helping Syrians in need. It is vital for this region and our world that the burden is shared," he said.

Some 6.5 million people are now displaced inside Syria. More than 2.3 million have registered as refugees outside Syria, many living in camps across the region which are barely coping.
The UN says more than 100,000 people have died since the uprising began in 2011.

By late on Wednesday, the conference had secured $2.4bn in pledges, including:
  • Kuwait: $500m
  • Saudi Arabia: $250m
  • Qatar: $60m
  • US: $380m in new contributions
  • EU countries as a whole: $753m
  • Norway: $75m
  • The UK pledged a further $164m bringing its total contribution to $985m
Those pledges represent roughly a third of the amount the UN says it needs.
Map showing location of Syrian refugees

Ismail Ammar, a 70-year-old Syrian living in the massive Zaatari refugee camp just inside Jordan, appealed to the donors, saying he had "nothing".

"No heating, no gas cylinder," he told the Associated Press. "We need everything. I'm suffering from an injury, and I have a big family, and we suffer in this cold weather."

Rights groups have accused the Syrian authorities of deliberately hampering aid distribution in some areas.

Human Rights Watch said Damascus was allowing some shipments in, but had "steadfastly refused to allow aid in from Turkey to reach those in need in northern Syria" and often forced convoys to take circuitous routes.

On Wednesday, UN relief agency UNRWA said it had tried to send a convoy of six vehicles carrying food, polio vaccines and other supplies to the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, a few kilometres south of Damascus, but had to withdraw when the vehicles were fired upon.

The agency says it was obliged by the authorities to use the southern entrance to the camp as opposed to the closer northern entrance, forcing the convoy to go through areas of intense conflict where jihadi groups are active, UNRWA's Chris Gunness told the BBC.

Syrian youths gather to receive aid food in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo Distributing aid to those inside Syria has been particularly difficult
The BBC's diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall says that for communities trapped by the fighting, what is needed is not so much more money, but an agreement on local ceasefires or humanitarian corridors.

But it is by no means clear the fragile peace process supposed to be launched at an international conference in Geneva next week can make that happen, she adds.

The main opposition alliance, the National Coalition, has still not decided whether to take part in the talks, fearing participation could undermine its credibility with the anti-government opposition inside Syria.

Correspondents say the growing disarray of the opposition is frustrating the West and bolstering the confidence of the Syrian government.

Western states have insisted that Mr Assad is responsible for the conflict and must stand down.

But in an interview with the BBC, Syria's deputy foreign minister said Western intelligence agencies have visited Damascus seeking co-operation on combating radical Islamist militants in Syria.

Mr Mekdad said there was a schism between what Western politicians were saying and what security officials were doing in practice, and that many had finally understood there was no alternative to the leadership of President Assad.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister: "Many foreign intelligence agencies have visited Damascus"

The BBC's chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet said informed sources had confirmed meetings between Western and Syrian intelligence officials.

Khaled Saleh, spokesman for the National Coalition, told the BBC that if the reports were true, "it would show a clear contradiction between the words and actions of the (Western-led) Friends of Syria group".

The Friends of Syria is a group of countries set up to support the Syrian opposition, with 11 states in the region and in the West comprising its "core group".

Mr Saleh said it was the Syrian opposition, not the government, that was combating "terrorist groups" such as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) which he insisted was "organically linked" to the Mr Assad's government.

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