Billions Pledged for Syrians as Raids Worsen Country's Humanitarian Crisis
February 5, 2016 Al Jazeera America
Turkey's foreign minister said a new exodus of thousands of Syrians could be on the verge of heading into his country. With Syria's five-year-old civil war raging and another attempt at peace negotiations called off in Geneva after just a few days, the London donors conference is hoping to go some way to addressing the needs of some six million people displaced within Syria and more than four million refugees in other countries.
DAMASCUS (February 4, 2016) -- As donor nations pledged on Thursday to give billions of dollars in aid to Syria to tackle the world's worst humanitarian crisis, Turkey reported a new exodus of tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing airstrikes amid a reported uptick in raids.
With Syria's five-year-old civil war raging and another attempt at peace negotiations called off in Geneva after just a few days, the London donors conference is hoping to go some way to addressing the needs of some six million people displaced within Syria and more than four million refugees in other countries.
Underlining the desperate situation on the ground in Syria, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the meeting of assembled world leaders that tens of thousands of Syrians were on the move toward his country to escape aerial bombardments on the city of Aleppo.
"Sixty to seventy thousand people in the camps in north Aleppo are moving towards Turkey. My mind is not now in London, but on our border -- how to relocate these new people coming from Syria?" he said. "Three hundred thousand people living in Aleppo are ready to move towards Turkey."
Meanwhile activists on the ground in Syria have told Al Jazeera that Russia has intensified its air strikes in an attempt to back up the Syrian government's offensive in the town.
"Syrian and Russian air strikes have targeted al-Bab, Hmeimeh, Soran and several other neighborhoods in Aleppo province. We can confirm that 37 people have been killed but we are expecting the death toll to rise," the local activist said.
Turkey is already hosting more than 2.5 million Syrian refugees. Jordan and Lebanon are the other countries bearing the brunt of the Syrian refugee exodus.
"Looking into the eyes of my people, and seeing the hardship and distress they carry, I must tell you we have reached our limit," Jordan's King Abdullah said.
Several speakers also made the point that while the situation of refugees was bad, that of Syrians trapped inside the country enduring bombardments, sieges and, in some places, starvation was far worse.
United Nations agencies are appealing for $7.73 billion to cope with the Syrian emergency this year, and countries in the region are asking for an additional $1.2 billion.
Conference co-hosts Britain, Norway and Germany were the first to announce their pledges.
Britain promised an extra $1.76 billion by 2020, raising its total commitment to $3.4 billion. Norway pledged $1.17 billion over the next four years, while Germany said it would give $2.57 billion by 2018.
The almost five-year-old conflict has killed an estimated 250,000 people and stoked the spread of violence across the Middle East and North Africa.
For European nations, improving the humanitarian situation in Syria and neighboring countries is crucial to reducing incentives for Syrians to travel to Europe, where a large refugee influx has put many countries under severe strain.
Meanwhile, it was "military escalations" by the Syrian government that led to the suspension of U.N.-brokered peace talks in Geneva this week but there is still a "glimpse of hope," Germany's foreign minister said Thursday.
After meeting King Salman and other leaders in Saudi Arabia, Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the talks broke down "because of the military escalations by the regime."
Backed by a wave of Russian air strikes, Syrian government forces have advanced this week against rebel positions on the road to the country's second city Aleppo.
"The fighting has seen an escalation and regime forces bear the responsibility for that," Steinmeier said at a news conference with his Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir.
United Nations Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura on Wednesday said talks -- the latest UN initiative to end the war in Syria -- would now resume on February 25.
His comments came after several days of fruitless meetings aimed at starting indirect negotiations between Syria's government and opposition.
"This is a very difficult situation," Steinmeier said, according to an English translation of his remarks. "But there is still a glimpse of hope. There is still a conviction of all parties to maintain the principles of Vienna . . . based on that we can come back to the negotiating table."
Germany is one of 20 nations and international organizations -- including Saudi Arabia -- in the Syria Support Group which last year in Vienna devised a plan for a political transition leading to free elections in Syria.
"It is important to intensify the political discussions about Syria," the German minister said.
Jubeir told reporters the Syrian government delegation "was not serious" about peace negotiations and that Russia had intensified its military operations in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
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