EU, UN assess Syria's reconstruction needs as donors gather

The European Union's top diplomat said Tuesday that the United Nations, EU and world financial institutions have begun technical work to figure out what will be needed to rebuild war-ravaged Syria.

Speaking on the eve of an international conference on Syria, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the work would foster peace efforts by giving Syrians a sense of their post-conflict future.

"It is easier to imagine peace if you are given some hope that that process can be supported by others," she told reporters in Brussels ahead of Wednesday's conference, expected to draw officials from around 70 countries.

"We have seen that too many times the international community is taken by surprise (by) the end of the conflict," Mogherini said.

Nearly 400,000 people have been killed during the six years of the Syrian conflict, while half of the country's population has been displaced by the violence.

U.N. agencies have estimated war damages across Syria so far at $350 billion, including physical damage and loss of economic activity.

The conference, also to be attended by aid and development groups, follows reports Tuesday that a suspected chemical attack killed dozens in northern Syria.

U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura called for "clear identification of responsibilities and accountability" for the chemical strike in Idlib province.

"Every time we have a moment in which the international community is capable of being together — 70 countries tomorrow — there is someone, somehow, that tries to undermine that feeling of hope by producing a feeling of horror and outrage," de Mistura said. "But we are not going to give up."

The aim of the conference is to drum up funds for Syria and the region and to support efforts to secure a lasting political solution to the conflict.

The EU, which is hosting the event with the United Nations, Britain, Germany, Kuwait, Norway and Qatar , hopes financial support will continue at the levels of recent years, amid concern about donor fatigue.

Last year's conference in London raised more than $12 billion in pledges - $6 billion for 2016 and $6.1 billion more for 2017-20.

"It is vital that the international community continues to support the Syrian people," British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said.

Participants will also look at ways to help rebuild, but only once a political transition involving all Syrians is underway.

"We do not imagine in any possible way that there can be a situation where the European Union takes the bill regardless of any kind of political dynamic. This is simply not going to happen," Mogherini warned.


Danica Kirka in London contributed.