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UN in funding call as Syria conflict rages

United Nations says will have to cut food ration supplies unless fresh funding found, as battles continue in civil war.
Last Modified: 28 Jan 2013 22:57
The UN will seek more than $1.5 billion in new cash pledges for Syrians at an upcoming donors conference [EPA]

As fighting continues in Syria's civil war, the United Nations has said that it will be forced to cut already reduced food rations to hundreds of thousands of refugees unless a huge cash injection is found.

On Monday, anti-government activists said that government forces battled rebels in several towns and villages around Damascus, including Daraya, Arbeen and Zabadani.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), an anti-government activist group, said the government forces also shelled several of the capital's suburbs.

The areas outside Damascus have been rebel strongholds since the uprising began in March 2011. In recent months, the rebels have used them as a base from which they have been trying to push into central Damascus, the seat of President Bashar al-Assad's power.

In the north, troops clashed with rebels in al-Hasaka province along Syria's border with Turkey, the Observatory said, adding that at least 10 rebels were killed in the fighting that erupted Sunday after the opposition fighters attacked a government checkpoint.

Food ration shortages

At the United Nations, meanwhile, John Ging, the director of the UN's humanitarian operations, said that UN agencies had already cut the nutritional value of rations by half in the past two months, due to funding shortages.

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"We are putting it squarely to the donors, more cuts are likely," Ging told reporters ahead of a donors conference in Kuwait on Wednesday.

About four million Syrians rely on international assistance to cope with fallout from the 22-month old conflict in which the UN estimates more than 60,000 people have died. Many of them get daily food rations.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN's secretary-general, will seek more than $1.5 billion in new cash pledges at the donors conference. About $500 million is needed for operations in Syria and the rest for more than 650,000 refugees in countries around Syria.

Ging said that Syrians are now "desperate."

'Weapons and more weapons'

In Paris, the Syrian opposition on Monday appealed for $500 million to step up their revolt against President Assad.

At an international meeting, the main opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC) said it needs the funds to set up an alternative government.

"With a state and a society collapsing, it is the Islamist groups that could gain ground if we do not do what we have to do," Laurent Fabius, France's foreign minister, warned the meeting.

"This conference has to send a clear signal, [that] it has one concrete objective: give the Syrian National Coalition the means to act."

George Sabra, head of the SNC, the main body in the opposition coalition, said Assad's opponents were desperately in need of cash and arms.

"We need a minimum of $500 million to be able to establish a government," he said. "And we need weapons, weapons and more weapons."

Arab and Western "Friends of Syria" agreed in December to provide a total of $145 million of support for the opposition, two-thirds of it from Saudi Arabia, but the money has yet to be delivered.

Assad, meanwhile, said his troops have gained the upper hand against rebels in the conflict and could win in "two weeks" should Turkey stop its support for rebels, a Lebanese newspaper reported.

"The army has a very large lead on the ground and has achieved significant gains," Al-Akhbar quoted him as saying. "If the Turkish border was closed to tackle the smuggling of arms and militants, this matter would be resolved in only two weeks."

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