May 8, 2013

U.S. to provide $100 million in new aid to Syrian refugees

By Bradley Klapper and Matthew Lee / The Associated Press

ROME — The Obama administration is providing $100 million in new Syria aid, U.S. officials said Wednesday, but the money is for humanitarian purposes only and not linked to any decision on arming Syrian rebels.

click image to enlarge

Former Free Syrian Army fighter Bilal al-Ammari, 28, holds his infant daughter at the Zaatari refugee camp near the Syrian border in Mafraq, Jordan, last month. More U.S. aid is going to refugees.

The Associated Press

The announcement will be made by Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday in Rome, where his diplomacy includes a meeting with Jordan's foreign minister, the officials said.

The new funds will help support 1.4 million Syrian refugees, including many in U.S. ally Jordan, and hundreds of thousands of other civilians still trapped by the violence inside Syria's border. Total U.S. humanitarian assistance in the two-year war will climb to $510 million.

The U.S. officials weren't authorized to speak publicly on the matter ahead of Kerry's announcement and demanded anonymity.

While the cash influx will certainly be welcomed by aid groups and refugee organizations that have lamented a lack of financial support, it is unlikely to end the clamoring for lethal assistance among the rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.

The Obama administration has said it is considering providing weapons to vetted units in the armed opposition, among other military options, following last week's revelation of a U.S. intelligence assessment suggested chemical weapons use by the Assad regime. The U.S. also is looking for ways to halt the violence that has killed more than 70,000 people.

But the U.S. maintains deep reservations about providing direct military assistance, given the growing presence of al-Qaida-linked and other extremists in the rebel ranks.

Underscoring the administration's goal of a peaceful transition of power to end the war, Kerry met for more than five hours Tuesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow.

Afterward, Kerry and Lavrov declared that the U.S. and Russia would convene an international conference on Syria in the coming weeks with the goal of corralling Assad's government and opposition representatives into peace talks. Kerry said the U.S. would make its decision on arming the rebels in part on the progress of that effort.

Kerry's expected announcement Thursday is more straightforward. It is meant to help Syrian neighbors that are struggling to cope with the large and growing refugee toll, and assure them that they won't be left to deal with the economic impact on their own.

The U.S. is the largest single humanitarian donor in the Syrian conflict and is hoping that its money will convince countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey to maintain open borders with Syria, and not force any refugees back to a life-threatening situation in their home country.

The money goes to the U.N. agencies for children and refugees. Nearly half of the aid is for food, shelter, health and other programs in Jordan, which is building a new refugee camp at Azraq.

Some $32 million is for Lebanon and $9.5 million for programs in Turkey.

The U.S. is giving $16 million to provide affected civilians inside Syria with basic necessities such as blankets, hygiene kits, clothing, health care and cash assistance for daily life.

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