Turkish agency warns of donor fatigue as Syria aid drops sharply

ISTANBUL Wed Jul 17, 2013 11:40am EDT

Free Syrian Army members gather on a street as they prepare an improvised rocket launcher in Deir al-Zor July 16, 2013. Picture taken July 16, 2013. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

Free Syrian Army members gather on a street as they prepare an improvised rocket launcher in Deir al-Zor July 16, 2013. Picture taken July 16, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Khalil Ashawi

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - International aid for Syria has tailed off sharply in recent months with the conflict apparently slipping from people's minds even as the humanitarian crisis deepens, Turkey's IHH relief agency warned on Wednesday.

IHH, whose trucks ferry aid gathered in Turkey and abroad to Syria every day, said it was now delivering as little as a tenth of the aid it had been sending earlier in the year.

"The daily number of aid trucks delivered into Syria has dropped to just 5-10 from a previous 50-60," IHH head Bulent Yildirim told a news conference in Istanbul.

"Why? Because we have been going on summer vacations while blood continues to be shed," he said, complaining of falling donor interest in a conflict that has lasted 28 months, with no end in sight.

The number of people fleeing the Syrian war has risen to an average of 6,000 a day this year - a rate the world has not seen since the genocide in Rwanda nearly two decades ago, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said on Tuesday.

The United Nations says the conflict had killed about 93,000 people as of end-April, including more than 6,500 children.

Citing the United Nations, the IHH said in a report that 4.25 million people had been forced to leave their homes in Syria by fighting as of the end of June.

"We are starting a new aid campaign, reminding people that we have to look after all the 350,000 children who have lost their parents, with the aim of delivering 2,000 trucks of aid," Yildirim said, without specifying a timeframe for that aid.

"Aid organizations gather at five-star hotels but when we go into Syria we can't see them in the field ... They should stop giving security concern as an excuse. We promise to handle the delivery of their aid if they have the intention to help."

The IHH, one of the most active aid organizations in Syria, said it had spent 100 million lira ($52 million) on food, shelter, healthcare and other assistance for towns in Syria and refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

The IHH has also been involved in negotiations to release prisoners, including two Turkish journalists and Syrian citizens, held in Syria. It brokered the release of 48 Iranians held by Syrian rebels in exchange for more than 2,000 civilians held by the Syrian government in January.

The humanitarian group came to prominence in May 2010 when Israeli marines stormed its Mavi Marmara aid ship to enforce a naval blockade of the Palestinian-run Gaza Strip and killed nine Turks in clashes with activists on board.

Turkey, which shelters half a million Syrian refugees, has been one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's most vocal critics as the conflict threatens to spread over the border.

A man and a 15-year-old boy were killed by stray bullets shot from Syria in a Turkish border town and Turkish troops returned fire, officials said on Wednesday, in the most serious spillover of violence into Turkey in weeks.

($1 = 1.9210 Turkish liras)

(Writing by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Alistair Lyon)

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