UPDATE 2-UN seeks Syria nod for major aid operation

Fri Apr 20, 2012 1:20pm EDT

* World body hopes for agreement with Syria in days

* Negotiating access and visas for aid workers

* U.N. seek funds for $180 mln aid plan for six months

* EU envoy says needs to be sure that funds not diverted (Adds remarks by EU)

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA, April 20 (Reuters) - The United Nations hopes to get permission from the Syrian government in the coming days to launch a major aid operation to help at least 1 million people affected by the country's violence, a senior U.N. humanitarian official said on Friday.

Syria has recognised there are "serious humanitarian needs" and that action is needed, but logistical issues and visas for aid workers are still being discussed, said John Ging, director of operations of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

"Now it's a question of implementing those plans. This is where we are needing to mobilise more effective engagement with the Syrians to get that plan fully up and running," Ging said.

It was important to get Syrian agreement on the plan, drawn up after an assessment mission carried out with Syrian officials last month, and to mobilise aid agencies for a "major humanitarian operation", Ging added.

He spoke to reporters after aid agencies and donors met in Geneva to discuss a six-month, $180 million assistance plan to help an estimated 1 million people in Syria.

An advance team of 30 U.N. monitors is due to deploy in Syria in the coming week to monitor a fragile ceasefire that has so far failed to stop the bloodshed, more than a year after the start of an uprising against Syrian Preisdent Bashar al-Assad.

EU SEEKS GUARANTEES

The aid plan aims to provide food and medical assistance, as well as kitchen sets for displaced families who have lost their homes and cash payments for those sheltering them, Ging said at the end of the Syrian Humanitarian Forum.

Separately, the U.N. refugee agency has appealed for $84 million for 60,000 Syrian refugees who have fled to Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. But it has only received 19 percent of the funds, UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told a briefing.

The United States announced it was donating a further $8 million, mainly for food and emergency health care, taking its contribution to $33 million. Canada, China and Sweden also pledged funds at the talks, U.N. sources said.

Claus Sorensen, director-general of the European Union's aid department ECHO, is seeking Syrian guarantees before pledging additional funds after an initial donation of 10 million euros.

"I need specifics before I can ask the European Parliament to release money. I need facts and need to be convinced it is feasible and is not diverted. I need to know to whom the aid is going because it is taxpayers' money, not mine," Sorensen told Reuters after the closed-door talks.

Radhouane Nouicer, U.N. regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, is to lead the negotiations, an EU official said.

"Progress on the technical issues and details has to be made in Damascus," he said, speaking on condition of not being named.

"We need visas and customs clearances to be operational and the authorisation of access to drive around the country and open offices. The longer this takes the more difficult it becomes."

The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) aims to double the number of people it was assisting in Syria this month to 200,000 from 100,000 in March, Ging said.

SYRIA SAYS "NO CRISIS"

Syria's ambassador, Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui, attended the talks along with representatives of donor countries, ECHO, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and the Arab League.

Hamoui said it had been a constructive meeting but accused some delegations of trying to politicise humanitarian aid.

"We are ready to cooperate but we hope they come to enter the house from the front door, not the window. We don't have any crisis in Syria. It is not Somalia," he told reporters.

Ging, asked about access in Syria, said: "That's the central issue to what we are negotiating - access, capacity of humanitarian agencies and organisations on the ground."

U.N. agencies have been largely shut out of Syria, where the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is the only international body to deploy aid workers. U.N. agencies have made some supplies available via the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

The ICRC, in a statement issued on Friday, said that unrest in Syria continued to cause suffering and mass displacement.

"There is a continuous flow of people leaving their homes in search of a safe haven," said Alexandre Equey, the ICRC's deputy head of delegation in Syria. "While some have managed to move in with relatives, friends, or even strangers willing to lend a helping hand, others have had no choice but to take refuge in schools, mosques and churches." (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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