Britain to provide £2m in aid to Syrian civilians


Britain is to supply £2 million-worth of aid to Syrian civilians suffering as a result of the violent crackdown on protests against the Assad regime, Prime Minister David Cameron announced today.

Mr Cameron said that the money will provide vitally needed medical supplies and food for more than 20,000 people affected by fighting in the city of Homs and elsewhere in Syria.

Speaking at a UK-France summit in France, the Prime Minister said that the situation in Syria was “appalling” and that he did not believe the international community was doing everything it could to stop President Bashar Assad’s “butchery” of his people.

But he cautioned that the position was not the same as in Libya, where the world came together last year behind a United Nations resolution authorising military action to defend civilians.

Flanked by President Nicolas Sarkozy at a press conference in the Elysee Palace, Mr Cameron said the world had to act “as decisively as it can” against the Syrian regime without a UN resolution.

While the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly last night to condemn Assad’s violent repression of protests, China and Russia have used their vetoes in the Security Council to prevent the agreement of an Arab League-backed resolution calling for political transition.

“We need to take all the action we can to put the maximum pressure on Assad to go and to stop the butchery that is taking place,” said Mr Cameron.

“I want us to go on working, to go on thinking, to go on combining with our allies and go on asking ourselves what more can we do to try and help transition take place in this country so we can get rid of this brutal dictator and give the Syrian people a chance of peace and stability in the future.

“I am not satisfied that we are taking all the action we need to but it is difficult, it is complicated, and we need to work very hard with our friends, allies and neighbours in the region to make sure we can do everything we can.”

Mr Sarkozy said sanctions needed to be strengthened against the Assad regime, while at the same time backing opposition to the government.

The current situation in Syria was “scandalous” and the UK and France were united in their “determination to ensure that democracies are not strangled by dictatorships”, said the French president.

But any revolution “could not come from the outside” of Syria, it had to “come from within”.

Both Mr Cameron and Mr Sarkozy offered their support to a new Friends of Syria group which will hold its first meeting in Tunisia next week.

The British funding announced today will be channelled through three humanitarian agencies which are active in Syria, but which are not being named in order to avoid the danger of reprisals.

The money will pay for emergency medical services and supplies for those injured in the violence; basic food rations for more than 20,000 people; household items such as cutlery, pots, blankets and towels for up to 5,500 people forced to flee their homes; bottled water for 2,750 people; and the restoration of damaged water and sanitation infrastructure for more than 30,000 people.

An adviser is to be deployed to the region to liaise with agencies already providing humanitarian aid and to promote better co-ordination of international relief efforts.

International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said: “The emerging picture from Syria is increasingly horrifying, and as the shelling of Homs enters its third week our concern for the humanitarian situation continues to grow.

“The support that the Prime Minister has announced today will provide immediate and potentially life-saving short-term help for thousands of innocent civilians under attack – but a longer-term solution is urgently needed.

“Humanitarian agencies in the country are doing admirable work, but restraints imposed by the Syrian government mean effectively they have one hand tied behind their back, while many other agencies aren’t even able to get access.

“The UK Government has consistently called for an end to the violence and unimpeded access to Syria for humanitarian agencies. These agencies must be allowed to assess what further help may be required and to meet the urgent needs of all those suffering as a result of the violence.”