U.N. aid chief Amos in Syria to press for access

GENEVA Tue Aug 14, 2012 7:31am EDT

GENEVA (Reuters) - United Nations emergency relief coordinator Valerie Amos arrived in Syria on Tuesday to seek agreement on increasing humanitarian aid to Syrian civilians trapped or displaced by intensifying fighting between government and rebel forces.

Hundreds of people are fleeing Syria daily to neighboring countries with some arriving wounded or reporting having been shelled or fired on in border areas, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

Amos, who entered Syria in a convoy from Lebanon, was due to meet Syrian authorities including deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad in Damascus on Tuesday, followed by talks with officials from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, spokesman Jens Laerke said.

"She's there to express her grave, grave concern over the situation," Laerke told a news briefing. "She will look at the situation on the ground and discuss with the government and humanitarian partners how to scale up the response in Syria."

The humanitarian plight has worsened over the past month as fighting has spread to the capital Damascus and the biggest city Aleppo. About two million people have been affected by the 17-month-old crisis and over a million are uprooted within Syria.

"Those are people who are displaced from where they live, where there has been shelling, or affected by price rises and little availability of food in some areas, it's children who are not able to go to school anymore, either because of insecurity or because internally displaced people occupy their schools or university students unable to be at their dormitory because it is full of displaced people," Laerke said in Geneva.

Amos will address ways of increasing emergency aid to civilians, but fighting must ebb before there is any real hope of gaining access to hot spots, diplomats say.

U.N. efforts to launch a significant aid operation in recent months have been stymied by Syrian bureaucracy and insecurity.

U.N. distribution networks are functioning, but a U.N. humanitarian appeal of $180 million for Syria this year is only 40 percent funded so far, Laerke said.

Displaced Syrians are pouring into Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, including 10,000 who arrived in Turkey over the past four days, raising the total there to nearly 60,000, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said.

Overall it has registered 157,577 Syrian refugees but the true total is much higher as thousands have failed to come forward to register, some for fear of reprisals upon return to Syria, UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told reporters.

"Meanwhile, the security situation for refugees in the northern border areas of Lebanon has been deteriorating. Northern parts of the Wali Khalid area, where several hundred refugee families reside, is targeted by shelling from the Syrian side of the border two to three times per week," Edwards said.

Jordan has seen a marked drop in the number of Syrians crossing over, with only 283 on Saturday night against a steady average of about 400 arriving each night since July, he said.

"Refugees have reported being fired upon by artillery and small arms fire while travelling to the border."

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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