WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama on Thursday approved $12 million in new humanitarian aid for beleaguered Syrian civilians as the civil war rages between rebels and the Assad regime in Aleppo and elsewhere.
The announcement takes total U.S. humanitarian relief to $76 million since Syria's conflict began last year. The U.S. is providing food, water, medicine, clothing and hygiene kits, the White House said.
The aid is separate from the $25 million in communications equipment and medical supplies that Washington is delivering directly to the Syrian opposition. The new relief money will go to the U.N. refugee agency, the international Red Cross, UNICEF and other organizations providing assistance to Syrian civilians, U.S. officials said.
"After nearly 17 months of conflict, the humanitarian situation is dire and rapidly deteriorating," a White House statement said. It said the American aid will help "provide lifesaving assistance and reduce human suffering."
More than 200,000 Syrians have fled to neighboring Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and hundreds of thousands more are displaced within Syria. In Aleppo alone, nearly two weeks of fighting has forced more than 200,000 people to flee their neighborhoods or the city altogether, according to the U.N. Aleppo is Syria's largest city.
While the Obama administration's attempts to halt the bloodshed through diplomatic means have been frustrated, it is trying to step up its assistance for civilians trapped in the violence and the rebel groups battling President Bashar Assad's superior armed forces.
State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters on Wednesday that the U.S. had added $10 million to its "nonlethal assistance" to the Syrian opposition. That's in addition to the $15 million announced earlier this year.
The effort also aims at building relationships with groups the U.S. believes will play an important role in Syria after the Assad regime falls.
Assad's government has bitterly repressed protesters and tried to stamp out the insurgency. But recent offensives by anti-Assad forces in Aleppo, Damascus and other regions of the country have raised hopes in Washington that the tide of the war may be turning.
Activists estimate that 19,000 people have been killed since March 2011.