U.N. doubles number needing aid in Syria

GENEVA Fri Sep 7, 2012 12:30pm EDT

GENEVA (Reuters) - About 2.5 million people caught up in Syria's fighting need aid, the United Nations said on Friday, double the number it estimated in June.

The sharp rise was caused by an upsurge in violence over the summer, particularly in the capital Damascus and the country's economic centre Aleppo, U.N. officials said during a meeting with major donors, including the United States and Russia.

"The situation for the people of Syria people is appalling and getting worse every day," John Ging, director of operations for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told the gathering.

The United Nations also almost doubled its appeal for funds to purchase food, medicine, sanitation equipment and other supplies to $347 million from a previous $180 million.

A total of $103 million funding had already come in, said OCHA.

After the Friday meeting, the European Commission said it would give a further 50 million euros ($63 million), on top of its existing 69 million euro contribution.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 23,000 people have died in an uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that has lasted more than 17 months.

Around 200,000 Syrians have fled to neighboring Turkey, Jordan and Iraq.

RED CROSS TALKS

President Assad met the new head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Damascus on Tuesday and promised to allow the agency to expand its humanitarian operations in his country.

Assad and his ministers appeared to be sincere about his intentions, ICRC chief Peter Maurer told reporters in Geneva on Friday.

"From his detailed questions, I drew the conclusion that President al-Assad is seriously interested in solving these problems," he added.

Asked if he expected any real action from the Syrian government which made similar, largely unfulfilled, promises to the ICRC in April, Maurer replied: "There is a good English saying: The proof of the pudding is in the eating."

The ICRC says it encounters huge bureaucratic and security problems when it tries to bring supplies into Syria and distribute them.

Maurer said the ICRC had also been in contact with Syrian opposition figures in other countries and was seeking contacts with opposition forces on the ground inside Syria to ease the way for supplies.

"But the opposition is a splintered movement ... We can't know if we have talked to the right people at the right levels," he added.

(Reported by Robert Evans; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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