The United States and France have announced increased support for opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as the world leaders remain divided on how to end the 18 months of violence in Syria.
World leaders meeting at the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week have expressed condemnation and frustration about the ongoing crisis in Syria, but there has been little progress in cementing a proposal to put a stop to the violence there.
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, on Friday told a meeting of the Friends of Syria group that the US would provide an additional $45m in non-lethal and humanitarian aid to the Syrian opposition.
Of this, $30m would be for humanitarian assistance and $15m for non-lethal help, such as radios and training.
The new pledges pushed total US humanitarian aid for Syria to more than $130m, and non-lethal aid to opposition groups to almost $45m.
Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, told the same meeting of the so-called Friends of Syria – an informal group of
countries supporting Assad’s ouster – that Paris was increasing its contacts with Syria’s armed rebels.
“The process is complex but the Syrian people have been waiting for 18 months for the opposition to succeed to move forward,” Fabius said.
“It is within this perspective that France has increased its contacts with representatives of the armed opposition.”
Despite Friday’s announcements, foreign assistance to the Syrian rebels has fallen well short of the foreign-protected safe havens the opposition wants and offers little hope of relief to the worsening plight of civilians.
France started channeling aid to rebel-held parts of Syria in August so that these safe havens could administer themselves and help stanch a flow of refugees trying to escape deadly air strikes by Assad’s forces.
However, credible protection for “liberated” areas would require no-fly zones patrolled by foreign aircraft. But this would require a mandate from the UN Security Council – something resolutely opposed by veto-wielding members Russia and China.
The council’s deadlock appears unbreakable at the moment, Western diplomats say.
Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby told the Friends of Syria group the situation in Syria was becoming “more explosive”.
“We need to start a transitional period,” he said. “A transitional period means a change to another regime.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who attended the meeting, later told the General Assembly it was “the inability of the Security Council to act that still encourages the Syrian regime to kill ever more people.”
“The situation in Syria has evolved into a real threat to regional peace and security,” he said.
“The Syrian regime deploys every instrument to turn the legitimate struggle of the Syrian people into a sectarian war, which will engulf the entire region into flames.”
Russia meanwhile attempted to turn the tables on critics of its stance on Syria, insisting that it is the West which stands in the way of concerted international action.
“We have consistently called for concerted efforts by the international community to compel the governments and its opponents to immediately cease violence and come to the negotiating table,” Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said on Friday.
He insisted before the assembly that the logjam was the fault of the powers that have failed to implement an earlier agreement on the conflict dubbed the “Geneva accord”.
“This is the quickest way to stop the loss of life in Syria,” he said, recalling that Moscow had proposed a resolution confirming that Syria was to see a transition of power under the terms of the Geneva accord.
“But this proposal has been blocked,” he complained, warning: “Those who oppose the implementation of the Geneva communique take upon themselves an enormous responsibility.
“They insist on a ceasefire only by the government and encourage the opposition to intensify hostilities. But in doing so, they essentially push Syria even deeper into the abyss of bloody internecine strife.”