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U.N. plea yields $1.5 billion to assist with Syrian crisis

March 16. 2013 11:01PM
By BRIAN MURPHY, Associated Press

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KUWAIT CITY — An emergency United Nations appeal to raise $1.5 billion in humanitarian aid for Syria exceeded its goal Wednesday at a conference with dire predictions of rising civilian costs and Jordan's king saying the refugee crunch has pushed his nation's resources to the breaking point.

We are sending a message to Syrians: You are not alone, said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon even as he described Syria as caught in a death spiral and the conditions for many civilians a living hell.

Wealthy Gulf nations – traditionally on the sidelines as major donors to U.N. aid efforts – took the lead in the latest drive with at least $900 million offered in a sign of their expanding political profile since the Arab Spring and their role as critical regional backers of the Syrian rebels.

But the success of swiftly pulling together the funds was tempered by reminders that the aid is expected to cover the relief costs only until summer, highlighting the massive burden to cope with needs from Syria's civil war and its spillover in a region where refugees are sometimes pouring into camps at the rate of 3,000 a day. The concern was evident from Ban even as he lauded the current outpouring, noting that more nations will be asked to give and others might have to dig deeper as the Syrian crisis grows.

The current pledges also will likely face close scrutiny on how quickly the money will reach over-stretched aid groups directed by the United Nations 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 materialized.

Another serious challenge is trying to gain access to civilians in rebel-held territory, aid officials said. The United Nations and other international groups must operate out of the Syrian capital, Damascus, and can be left struggling to arrange convoys through battle lines and making contacts with opposition groups.

We know we are not reaching all the people who need to be reached, said the U.N.'s humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos, who held talks earlier this week with Syrian officials.

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