As Fighting Continues in Syria, U.S. Sends Humanitarian Aid
The State Department reported that fighting continued between Syrian Arab Republic Government (SARG) forces and armed opposition groups in Syria despite the four-day Eid al-Adha ceasefire brokered by U.N.–Arab League Special Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, which began on October 26. An initial decrease in violence enabled some displaced families in Aleppo neighborhoods to temporarily return home to survey damage and retrieve winter clothing and other supplies, according to international media sources.
However, multiple car bombings and airstrikes in Damascus, Aleppo, and Dayr az Zawr cities and elsewhere effectively ended the ceasefire as of October 27, as parties to the conflict accused each other of violating the agreement. Despite the continued violence, U.N. agencies took advantage of the temporary ceasefire period to deliver humanitarian assistance to Homs, Aleppo, Ar Raqqah, and southern Al Hasakah governorates.
VOA also reported that Syrian troops used aircraft and artillery in an attempt to dislodge rebels from a town next to the border with Turkey. President Assad’s air force has been bombing the area for days, trying to dislodge anti-Assad rebels who overran the town last week during an advance into Syria’s mixed Arab and Kurdish northeast.
However, Israel’s defense minister said Syrian rebels have taken control of nearly all villages near the Israeli-held Golan Heights.
Syrian Opposition Unites as National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces
On November 11, 2012, Mark C. Toner Deputy Spokesperson, Office of the Spokesperson for the State Department said
“The United States congratulates the representatives of the Syrian people on the formation of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NCSROF). We look forward to supporting the National Coalition as it charts a course toward the end of Assad’s bloody rule and the start of the peaceful, just, democratic future that all the people of Syria deserve. We will work with the National Coalition to ensure that our humanitarian and non-lethal assistance serves the needs of the Syrian people. We also commend the Government of Qatar for its steadfast leadership and support of this conference.”
According to the Voice of American, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the formation of the coalition, which supersedes the widely discredited Syrian National Council, was an important step, but did not offer it full recognition or arms. However, she urged the NCSROF to support the commitments it made recently in Doha and start influencing events on the ground and did not offer it full recognition or arms.
“So, good beginning, highly welcomed by us and others, and we want to see the steps taken that have been promised. And we stand ready to assist this new opposition in standing itself up and representing the Syrian people to the regime and the international community."
President Obama also answered question about the situation at his news conference.
“Thank you. Mr. President, the Assad regime is engaged in a brutal crackdown on its people. France has recognized the opposition coalition. What would it take for the United States to do the same? And is there any point at which the United States would consider arming the rebels?”
“I was one of the first leaders I think around the world to say Assad had to go, in response to the incredible brutality that his government displayed in the face of what were initially peaceful protests.”
“Obviously, the situation in Syria has deteriorated since then. We have been extensively engaged with the international community as well as regional powers to help the opposition. We have committed to hundreds of millions of dollars of humanitarian aid to help folks both inside of Syria and outside of Syria. We are constantly consulting with the opposition on how they can get organized so that they’re not splintered and divided in the face of the onslaught from the Assad regime. "
“We are in very close contact with countries like Turkey and Jordan that immediately border Syria and have an impact — and obviously Israel, which is having already grave concerns, as we do, about, for example, movements of chemical weapons that might occur in such a chaotic atmosphere and that could have an impact not just within Syria, but on the region as a whole.”
“I’m encouraged to see that the Syrian opposition created an umbrella group that may have more cohesion than they’ve had in the past. We’re going to be talking to them. My envoys are going to be travelling to various meetings that are going to be taking place with the international community and the opposition.”
“We consider them a legitimate representative of the aspirations of the Syrian people. We’re not yet prepared to recognize them as some sort of government in exile, but we do think that it is a broad-based representative group. One of the questions that we’re going to continue to press is making sure that that opposition is committed to a democratic Syria, an inclusive Syria, a moderate Syria.”
“We have seen extremist elements insinuate themselves into the opposition, and one of the things that we have to be on guard about — particularly when we start talking about arming opposition figures — is that we’re not indirectly putting arms in the hands of folks who would do Americans harm, or do Israelis harm, or otherwise engage in actions that are detrimental to our national security.”
“So we’re constantly probing and working on that issue. The more engaged we are, the more we’ll be in a position to make sure that we are encouraging the most moderate, thoughtful elements of the opposition that are committed to inclusion, observance of human rights, and working cooperatively with us over the long term.”
“Thank you very much.”
According to the BBC the NCSROF is led by former imam of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Moaz al-Khatib, and Suheir Atassi – a secular feminist from a prominent political family that has opposed the Assad regime. Atassi is also a member of the Democratic Arab Socialists Union.
Cleric Moaz al-Khatib, former Sunni Muslim imam of the Umayyad mosque in Damascus, is viewed as a moderate.
A number of questions about U.S. involvement in the formation of the new group have arisen (see State Department briefing in the above video).
U.N. agencies estimate that an additional 1.5 million people in Syria may be in need of assistance in the coming months. The potential increase would raise Syria’s conflict-affected population from 2.5 million to 4 million people. At present, the U.N. estimates that 1.2 million people are internally displaced inside Syria, while SARG estimates of internally displaced persons (IDPs) exceed 3 million. In addition, nearly 390,000 people have fled from Syria to Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, a figure that U.N. agencies expect to increase to 710,000 by the end of the year. The U.N. also reports that thousands of Syrians have fled to Europe and North Africa.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the United States is providing $30 million in additional humanitarian assistance to help those affected by the conflict in Syria. The United States is providing nearly $200 million in humanitarian aid to help those suffering as a result of the Asad regime’s violence inside Syria and in neighboring countries.
In Syria, this additional funding will allow for the immediate procurement of food in local and regional markets to provide family food baskets to those in need, which contain vital necessities such as rice, beans, and cooking oil. In neighboring countries, this additional assistance from the United States will provide food supplies, hot meals, and food vouchers for families who have fled the violence in Syria. This additional assistance will be provided through the World Food Program (WFP), which is providing food aid to 1.5 million people in Syria and the refugees who have fled to neighboring countries. The United States is the largest donor of food aid for those affected by the conflict in Syria through WFP.
The United States is providing food aid, medical supplies, emergency and basic health care, shelter materials, clean water, hygiene education and supplies, and other relief supplies—including blankets and heaters—to help more than one million people inside Syria and the nearly 400,000 refugees in neighboring countries.
by Todd Miller
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