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Ukraine war casts shadow over Syria donors’ conference

BRUSSELS: International donors held a sixth pledging conference in Brussels for conflict-wracked Syria on Tuesday, saying Syrians should not be forgotten even as the Ukraine war grips world attention. “World public opinion seems not to be able to deal with more than one crisis at the time,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said as he opened the event.

He admitted “a certain fatigue” among donors, adding: “Now it is Ukraine in the headlines. But don’t give up on Syria.” Last year’s donors’ conference raised a total $6.4 billion, with the money to go to helping Syrians and to neighbouring countries struggling with Syrian refugees-not to the Damascus government.

Much of the money will go to help Syrians who have taken refuge in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, as well as Egypt and Iraq. The UN special envoy to Syria, Geir Pedersen, told the Brussels conference that “Syrians have never needed your support more than they do right now”.

He said massive Syrian population displacement continues with little progress from Damascus on meeting international demands for political reform. “The economic crisis continues and violence continues, with constant risk of escalation – even if there is something of a military stalemate,” he said.

He added that diplomacy had been made “even more difficult than it was before” by the effects of the war in Ukraine. Borrell ruled out a normalisation of ties with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government or a rebuilding programme for Syria, saying “if you go and spend money reconstructing Syria, it is going to support the Syrian regime”.

The conference brought together around 70 countries and international institutions, including UN agencies. Russia, targeted by the West for its invasion of Ukraine, was not invited. Borrell announced an extra one billion euros ($1.1 billion) covering 2022, bringing its total to 1.56 billion euros-the same as it pledged last year. In addition, EU member states made national pledges, with the total raised to be given later Tuesday. The US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said Washington was giving $800 million.

“Given the focus… we have on Ukraine, I thought it was important for me to come here from New York to say that we have not forgotten the Syrian people,” she said. The Syrian war started in 2011 and is now in its 12th year, with more than half a million people estimated to have been killed.

The forces of Assad, with backing from Russia and Iran, have been battling rebels opposed to his rule, most of them in Syria’s northwest. According to UNHCR, 6.8 million Syrians have registered as refugees, while UNICEF says 9.3 million Syrian children need aid both inside the country and in the wider region around Syria. – AFP

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