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UN launches appeal for Syrian refugees

14 June 2013


Salvage operation: residents collect their belongings near a damaged church in Qusair, on Saturday

Salvage operation: residents collect their belongings near a damaged church in Qusair, on Saturday

CHRISTIAN organisations and governments around the world are considering how to respond to the latest prediction from the UN that ten million Syrians will need aid by the end of this year. The UN has launched an appeal for £3.2 billion - the largest in its history.

It estimates that within the coming six months some 3.45-million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries, and 6.8 million people in Syria itself will require help.

The chief executive of the Christian relief organisation World Vision UK, Justin Byworth, said: "We are desperately trying to help those refugees who need it the most, but . . . we urgently need more funds to scale up our work."

Lebanon is one of the countries shouldering the burden of the refugee crisis. "This has gone way beyond Lebanon's ability to cope," Mr Byworth said. "The world must sit up and take notice of this widening humanitarian tragedy."

Save the Children says that it continues to work in Syria, "under very dangerous circumstances", to provide children with water, medicine, and clothing. In neighbouring countries, it says, "our teams are trying to meet the growing basic needs of half a million refugee children."

In London, commenting on the latest UN figures on the rising number of Syrian refugees, the International Development Secretary, Justine Greening, said that the UK "has never stood on the sidelines, and we are ready to play our role".

In Syria, the recent military setbacks suffered by rebel forces appear to have strengthened the resolve of the Bashar al-Assad regime to hold on to power. Consequently, there is likely to be less incentive than before for the Damascus government to take part in the peace conference that the United States and Russia are planning to hold in Geneva next month.

The head of the Free Syrian Army, General Salim Idris, told the BBC last week that he was not interested in taking part in the international initiative until the EU, which has lifted its arms embargo, despatched arms to help the rebels. "If we don't receive ammunition and weapons to change the position on the ground, to change the balance on the ground, very frankly I can say we will not go to Geneva."

The Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia, Mikhail Bogdanov, said in an Arab newspaper interview earlier this week: "If the Geneva conference fails, nothing but one scenario will remain: war, and Syria's complete destruction."

The clearest evidence of the rebels' starting to lose ground to the Syrian army came with the fall of the strategically important town of al-Qusair, close to the Lebanese border. A decisive factor was the involvement of Lebanese Shia fighters from Hizbollah alongside Syrian forces.

The Arab Gulf states,were enraged by Hizbollah's involvement. One effect of this has been a rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which had been backing different factions but are now united against a common enemy.

It is a further sign of growing Sunni-Shia tension in the region.This is visible not just in Syria, but also in Lebanon, Iraq, Kuwait, and Bahrain. Even if peace eventually comes to Syria, dealing with the sectarian fallout from that crisis will remain a longer-term challenge.

Death-toll estimate rises. On Thursday, the UN said that its latest figures indicate that at least 93,000 people have been killed in Syria since the start of the conflict.  This marks a rise of more than 30,000 since the UN last issued figures, covering the period to November 2012. The UN's human rights body says that at least 5000 people have been dying in Syria every month since last July. But it says these statistics are an underestimate, as it believes that many deaths have not been reported.


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