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$1.5 billion Gulf aid for Syrians

(Wam, agencies) / 31 January 2013

Gulf nations answered calls to boost humanitarian aid for Syria with $1.5 billion in pledges on Wednesday even as more refugees poured into neighbouring Jordan and its leader warned resources were strained to the limit, UN chief Ban Ki-moon said.

“We exceeded the target” of the conference, Ban said at the closing of the one-day meeting during which the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia pledged $300 million each.

General Shaikh Mohammed leading the UAE delegation at the conference in Kuwait City on Wednesday. — Wam 

Making the UAE’s pledge, General Shaikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, said: “The UAE, as per the directives of the President, His Highness Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, initiated humanitarian work since the beginning of the events in Syria, to fulfil its responsibilities in providing relief to the Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries.”

“The UAE has participated in all efforts meant to help the brotherly Syrian people and has supported the Arab and international initiatives aimed at putting an end to the tragedy and sufferings as well as achieving their legitimate aspirations for a free and decent life,” he said, adding that the announcement on Wednesday is a continuation of UAE support to the Syrians.

The UAE delegation included Shaikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Foreign Minister; and Obaid Humaid Al Tayer, Minister of State for Financial Affairs.

Referring to the horrific events experienced by Syria and the human tragedy witnessed by the people of the country, Gen. Shaikh Mohammed said that they were “immense and terrible” by all accounts and that “the daily destruction in Syria has stirred human emotions and put a great challenge to the international conscience”.

“The plight of civilians in Syria is a test for the legitimate, humanitarian and moral responsibility of the international community to secure protection for them,” he added.

He stressed the importance of rallying international and regional efforts to secure the humanitarian needs of the displaced Syrians, providing immediate relief that can reach the eligible refugees and others who are affected by the extreme cold this winter.

He thanked the Amir of Kuwait, His Highness Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah, for his generous initiative and his organisation of the conference, noting his personal efforts in the humanitarian field and assisting the needy.

He praised the role of the UN secretary-general in calling for the holding of the conference and his relentless efforts in rallying international support to secure the needs of the Syrian people.

“The grave responsibility of the international community in rescue of the Syrian people comes from its legitimate, humanitarian and moral commitments,” he said. “Now is the time to fulfil these commitments,” Gen. Shaikh Mohammed added.

Shaikh Abdullah said the UAE assistance to the Syria people will be given directly and under the Emirati supervision, and not other party.

The Gulf promises at a donors’ conference hosted by Kuwait — added to earlier relief fund increases by the US and European Union — pushed close to the UN’s appeal for at least $1.5 billion in immediate aid. But the funds are only expected to cover the coming months, highlighting the massive burden to cope with needs from Syria’s civil war and its spillover in the region.

The pledges also will likely face close scrutiny on how quickly the money will reach over-stretched aid groups directed by the UN and other agencies. Officials in Egypt and elsewhere have complained that many generous international offers for help after the Arab Spring upheavals have not yet materialised.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened the gathering by calling for an end to the fighting “in the name of humanity”, yet noted that the fighting shows no signs of easing and crises such as the refugee exodus to places such as Turkey and Jordan could intensify.

Jordan’s economic council said the country was already near the breaking point. The kingdom has 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 three per cent of its GDP. Some UN officials say the refugee figures could approach one million later this year if the conflict in Syria does not ease.

Speaking at the UN-led gathering in Kuwait, Jordan’s King Abdullah 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 amplified his appeal for international help at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, saying “the weakest refugees are struggling now just to survive this year’s harsh winter” and up to 3,000 a day are still crossing the Syria-Jordan border.

In his opening remarks, Ban urged all sides “and particularly the Syrian government” to halt attacks in the 22-month-old civil war that the UN 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 two million Syrians have been uprooted or are suffering inside the country as the conflict widens — including what peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi called “unprecedented levels of horror” in an address to the UN Security Council after at least 65 bodies were found on 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.

On Tuesday, the European Union and the US promised a total of nearly $300 million.

The head of the US delegation, Assistant Secretary of State Anne Richard, lauded the donations from Gulf nations, which often bankroll their own aid efforts but are not traditional top donors to UN programmes. She noted, however, 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”.

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