UN chief presses for major boost in Syrian aid

  • Article by: BRIAN MURPHY
  • Associated Press
  • January 30, 2013 - 5:32 AM

KUWAIT CITY - The U.N. chief appealed Wednesday for a major boost in international relief aid for Syria and called for the fighting to end "in the name of humanity" even as more refugees poured into neighboring Jordan and its leader warned resources were strained to the limit.

The U.N.'s call for up to $1.5 billion in humanitarian assistance at an international conference in Kuwait reflects the deepening civilian crisis inside Syria and the civil war's increasing spillover around the region.

Jordan's economic council said the kingdom had spent more than $833 billion on aid for refugees — accounting for nearly half the estimated 700,000 people who have fled Syria — and that it was unable to sustain a financial burden that has so far siphoned off about 3 percent of its GDP.

Some U.N. officials say the refugee figures could approach 1 million later this year if the conflict in Syria does not ease.

Speaking at the U.N.-led gathering in Kuwait, Jordan's King Abdullah II said sheltering and assisting the refugee wave is above the country's "capacity and potential."

"We have reached the end of the line. We have exhausted our resources," he said.

Last week, the king used the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to amplify his appeal for international help as "the weakest refugees are struggling now just to survive this year's harsh winter" and more cross the Syria-Jordan border at up to 3,000 a day.

In his opening remarks, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon urged all sides "and particularly the Syrian government" to halt attacks in the 22-month-old civil war that the U.N. says has claimed more than 60,000 lives.

"In the name of humanity, stop the killing, stop the violence," Ban told envoys from nearly 60 nations, including Russia and Iran, key allies of Assad's regime.

Aid officials estimate that more than 2 million Syrians have been uprooted or are suffering inside the country as the civil war widens - including what peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi called "unprecedented levels of horror" in an address to the U.N. Security Council after at least 65 bodies were found Tuesday in a suspected execution-style killing near Aleppo.

Before the latest donors' conference, Ban described the international humanitarian response to Syria as "very much limited" in comments to the official Kuwaiti News Agency.

But the meeting appeared to leverage more pledges. Kuwait's ruler, Sheik Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, promised $300 million in a move that could prompt other donations from Gulf Arab allies, which are major backers of Syrian rebel factions. On Tuesday, the European Union and the U.S. promised a total of nearly $300 million.

The head of the U.S. delegation, Assistant Secretary of State Anne Richard, lauded the donations from Gulf nations that are not traditional major donors to U.N. efforts. But she noted that the humanitarian funds are only to deal with immediate needs over the coming months.

"It's good for now, but predictions are that it's not going to be over soon," said Richard, who deals with refugee and migration affairs.

Ban described the situation in Syria as "catastrophic and getting worse by the day."

He listed a "cascading catalog of horrors" facing Syrians, including shortages of food and medicine and abuses such as "sexual violence and arbitrary arrests and detention."

Half of public hospitals have been damaged, he added.

"The use of heavy weapons in residential areas has destroyed whole communities and neighborhoods," Ban told delegates.

While international aid channels are open to refugee camps in places such as Turkey and Jordan, there is far more limited capacity to organize relief efforts inside Syria because of the fighting and obstacles from Assad's regime.

Paris-based Medecins Sans Frontieres said the U.N. and others need to open more routes for aid to reach rebel-held areas, which now receive only a "tiny share" of international humanitarian help.

"The current aid system is unable to address the worsening living conditions facing people who live inside Syria," said a statement by MSF president, Marie-Pierre Allie.

The escalating hardships in camps outside Syria also can be used by Assad's government as potential fodder in its claims that rebels are responsible for the country's collapse, said Fawaz Gerges, head of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics.

"The misery of the refugees, their suffering in neighboring countries, provide the ammunition for Assad, who is saying to them, `See, you have no one else but your country, so come home,'" Gerges said.


Associated Press writer Dale Gavlak in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.

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