UN humanitarian chief in Syria for talks
- Article by: ALBERT AJI
- Associated Press
- January 27, 2013 - 5:14 AM
DAMASCUS, Syria - The United Nations humanitarian chief discussed the Syria crisis with officials in Damascus on Sunday, amid deteriorating humanitarian conditions and a new vow of support from Iran for the embattled regime of President Bashar Assad.
Valerie Amos did not speak publically upon her arrival in Damascus on Sunday for a two-day visit, but was seen by reporters heading to the offices of U.N. and government officials and visiting a center for the displaced.
Living conditions have grown worse throughout Syria during the 22-month conflict, which began with political protests and has since evolved into a civil war with scores of rebel groups fighting Assad's forces across the country.
Entire towns and neighborhoods have been damaged by violence, and more than 2 million people are internally displaced, with another 650,000 seeking refuge in neighboring countries.
Some areas face food shortages, and even areas that have been spared large-scale violence like Damascus lack sufficient quantities of gasoline, heating oil and cooking gas.
On Friday, the U.N. announced it was preparing to send $10 million in new U.S. aid to help alleviate hunger in northern Syria.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, Amos said world powers had not done enough to lessen Syrian suffering.
"The humanitarian situation in Syria is already catastrophic and it's clearly getting worse," she said. "What we are seeing now are the consequences of the failure of the international community to unite to resolve the crisis."
World powers remain divided on how to solve the crisis. The U.S. and many Arab and European countries have called on Assad to step down, while Russia, China and Iran refuse any pressure from outside that seeks to hasten the regime's fall.
On Saturday, Iran made its strongest warning to date that it could intervene militarily to help Assad's regime.
As quoted by the semiofficial Mehr news agency, an aide to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Syria held a key position among a group of Middle Eastern powers opposed to U.S. and Israeli influence in the region.
"Syria plays a very key role in supporting or, God forbid, destabilizing the resistance front," said Ali Akbar Velayati. "For this same reason, (an) attack on Syria is considered (an) attack on Iran and Iran's allies."
Iran is Syria's strongest ally in the Middle East, and has provided Assad's government with military and political backing for years. In September, the top commander of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard, Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, said the elite unit had high-level advisers in Syria. Iran also is believed to be sending weapons and money to Syria as it endures its worst crisis in decades.
The U.N. says more than 60,000 people have been killed since the start of the conflict in March 2011.
© 2013 Star Tribune