The United States unveiled $45 million in new aid to Syria Friday, and urged the global community to maintain its resolve as Syrian grassroots activists appealed to world leaders for help.
Hosting a meeting of the Friends of Syria group, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington was donating new funds to meet a growing humanitarian crisis caused by the country’s bloody 18-month conflict that has claimed some 30,000 lives.
The announcement came as armed rebels unleashed an unprecedented barrage of mortar fire against troops in Aleppo after announcing a “decisive” battle for Syria’s second city.
Clinton announced an extra $30 million to help get supplies and medical services to “the people suffering under the relentless assaults,” bringing the US commitment to humanitarian funding to over $132 million.
She also unveiled an extra “$15 million to support Syrian civilian opposition groups,” for a total of some $45 million of support to the unarmed opposition.
The latest aid would go toward helping “besieged communities inside Syria,” the State Department said.
It would also provide medical and mental health care for children caught up in the fierce fighting, as well as provide clean water, materials for shelter, blankets and basic necessities, such as soap and pots and pans.
Clinton said the extra funds for the civilian opposition translated into “1,100 sets of communications equipment, including satellite-linked computers, cell phones and cameras, as well training for more than 1,000 activists.”
But Washington has stuck by its refusal to provide arms and military support to the Syrian rebels fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad, fearing it would further complicate the situation on the ground.
Nine Syrian activists, working with local coordination committees in cities such as Homs, were attending the meeting to spell out their needs to a gathering of about two dozen countries.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague revealed Britain was pumping another £8 million ($12.9 million) into the humanitarian fund for Syria on top of £30.5 million already pledged.
“The Syrian people have lost enough in lives, blood and suffering. It is down to us not to let them lose all hope too,” Hague said after the meeting.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle agreed “we have to work for the long-term prospects of the Syrians, but we must take care of the needs of the Syrians today.”
In areas taken by the opposition, people were beginning to organize themselves and “in these areas we must make available food, support and medicines, as well as repair the damaged infrastructure,” he said.
And French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called for “more concrete aid” for the people in liberated areas who “feel they have been abandoned.”
At the U.N.
The General Assembly this week highlighted the global stalemate, with most of the 193-states condemning events in Syria but showing no substance behind their rhetoric.
Russia, which has three times vetoed a Security Council resolution on Syria, stuck to its position: Assad’s departure should not be a precondition for a political transition and under no circumstances will it support a U.N. resolution that could lead to military intervention.
Painting a bleak picture of mediation efforts, U.N.-Arab League representative Lakhdar Brahimi told the Security Council that the situation in Syria is worsening and Assad’s government is clinging to the hope of returning to the past. Five weeks into the job, he admitted he had no plan but “a few ideas.”
Opponents of the Syrian president look less united in their approach. Qatar called for an alternative plan and once again urged Arab states to create a regional force to stop the bloodshed.
President Barack Obama, preoccupied with his re-election bid on Nov. 6, barely mentioned Syria in his address to delegates. Former colonial power France urged the U.N. to protect areas “liberated” in Syria, but officials acknowledged behind the scenes the calls were essentially symbolic.
Most nations, including Russia and China, agree on the principles of a previously proposed six-point peace plan and framework of an accord struck in Geneva between the permanent members of the Security Council.
Both those plans are stillborn unless an agreement with Russia can be struck on how to ensure they are implemented.
“Unfortunately, all these mediations have failed,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Reuters. “We all support Lakhdar Brahimi, but we have learned that there must be a stronger mandate given to the special representative.”
He said the Friends of Syria was created to defend the rights of the Syrian people and not to undermine the United Nations. The group now seems as hamstrung as the Security Council.