* 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 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)