U.S. announces $364 million more in aid for Syrians

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department said on Tuesday it was providing an additional $364 million in humanitarian assistance to help Syrians caught up in the country’s civil war, bringing total U.S. humanitarian spending for Syria to about $5.9 billion.

Girls stand in line on the first day of school in the rebel held town of Maaret al-Numan, Syria September 24, 2016. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration Anne Richard said the funding would help provide food, shelter, safe drinking water, medical care and other support for millions of Syrian refugees and the communities that host them.

Richard told a State Department briefing about three-quarters of the additional funding would help people still inside Syria and the rest would assist Syrians who have fled the country.

She also said the United States had admitted some 85,000 refugees over the past fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. That figure included about 12,500 Syrian refugees, exceeding the administration’s goal of 10,000, she said.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the push for additional humanitarian aid funds came in part because of deteriorating conditions in Aleppo after the collapse of a ceasefire sponsored by the United States and Russia.

The forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have launched a massive push against rebel-held areas of the city, where some 250,000 civilians are believed to be trapped. Intensive bombing has killed hundreds of people, many of whom died in buildings collapsed by bunker-buster bombs.

“Until the past few weeks we felt like we were on a firm path towards a possible diplomatic resolution to this. We still believe that’s possible,” Toner told a briefing.

“That doesn’t mean we’re not mindful ... of the tremendous humanitarian suffering that’s going on right now in Aleppo. And that’s why we’re working so hard to ramp up our assistance,” he added.

While saying the United States continued to seek a diplomatic resolution of the problem, he left the door open to other action.

“We’ll continue to weigh all options. Those discussions are ongoing. I don’t want to rule anything out, but right now we’re focused on the diplomatic one,” Toner said.

He noted the United States has warned that failure to achieve a ceasefire could lead to an escalation of the conflict.

“We cannot dictate what other countries ... may or may not decide to do in terms of supporting certain groups within Syria,” Toner said. “You may have a further deterioration on either side ... and by deterioration I mean more arming and more conflict between them, and intensification of the conflict.”

Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Writing by David Alexander; Editing by Eric Walsh and Andrew Hay