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Syria blocks aid after retaking Eastern Ghouta, as donors pledge another $4.4bn Open in fullscreen

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Syria blocks aid after retaking Eastern Ghouta, as donors pledge another $4.4bn

The besieged town of Douma is yet to receive any UN humanitarian assistance [Getty]

Date of publication: 25 April, 2018

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The Syrian regime is yet to allow UN humanitarian aid into Eastern Ghouta since retaking it two weeks ago, as $4.4bn pledged toward Syria is blasted as 'not nearly enough'

Two weeks after its forces took full control of Eastern Ghouta, the Syrian regime has yet to allow UN humanitarian aid to enter the main town of Douma, the UN deputy aid chief said on Wednesday.

Ursula Mueller also told the UN Security Council that the situation in rebel-held Idlib was "catastrophic", with tens of thousands of displaced Syrians from Eastern Ghouta and elsewhere seeking refuge there.

"While Eastern Ghouta is no longer besieged as it has come under the control of the government of Syria, the UN has not yet been granted access to Douma," Mueller said.

About 70,000 people are in dire need of aid in Douma after one of the most intense military battles in Syria's seven-year war. Syrian forces retook full control of Eastern Ghouta on April 12.

"After seven years of conflict that continues to see escalation after escalation, the needs of Syrians have never been higher," said Mueller, the UN assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs.

With almost 400,000 people displaced since mid-December and tens of thousands pouring in from other regions, Idlib has also been hit by air strikes in recent weeks as fighting continues, Mueller said.

The Security Council met to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Syria following a weekend retreat in Sweden that some diplomats said helped mend rifts within the top UN body over how to help end the war.

Swedish Ambassador Olof Skoog said the council would be looking at "incremental steps" on Syria, including a push for more aid convoys to be sent to hard-to-reach areas and stepping up mine removal in Raqqa, six months after the Islamic State group was driven out of the city.

The council has been riven by divisions over chemical weapons use in Syria following the alleged use of toxic gas that reportedly killed dozens in Douma on April 7.

$4.4bn 'a good start'

Meanwhile international donors on Wednesday pledged $4.4 billion in aid for civilians caught up in the Syrian civil war - well short of what the UN says is needed for humanitarian work in the war-ravaged country and its neighbours.

The sum committed at a two-day conference in Brussels was less than half of the $9 billion the United Nations says is needed this year to help those in need inside Syria and living as refugees in neighbouring countries.

The head of the UN aid agency UNOCHA called the $4.4 billion "a good start" but a group of nine international aid organisations said the conference "did not go nearly far enough".

Read more: Are there really 'no good guys' in Syria?

Mark Lowcock, the head of UNOCHA, told a news conference that a further $3.3 billion for 2019 and after was expected at the conference, attended by more than 80 countries, aid groups and agencies.

Britain announced 450 million pounds ($630 million, 515 million euros) for 2018 and another 300 million pounds for 2019, while Germany said it would donate more than a billion euros and the EU pledged some 560 milllion euros.

But several major donors including the United States have not yet confirmed their pledges, Lowcock said, because of ongoing internal budget wrangling.

'Not nearly far enough'

Lowcock said he hoped to see $8 billion pledged on Wednesday, warning that funds were "desperately short" and some programmes may need to be cut if money was not found, in remarks made to AFP.

The figure was also well short of the $6 billion pledged at last year's Brussels gathering, and a group of nine NGOs including Oxfam, Save the Children and the Norwegian Refugee Council issued a joint statement to voice their alarm.

"This conference did not go nearly far enough to provide adequate support to the millions of Syrians in need of assistance and who are left facing an uncertain future," they said.

Some 6.1 million people are now internally displaced in Syria, more than five million have fled the country and 13 million including six million children are in need of aid, according to the UN. 

More than 700,000 people have been displaced since the start of this year alone as Assad has stepped up his offensive against rebel forces, intensifying the humanitarian crisis.

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