UN nearly doubles humanitarian appeal for Syria

The United Nations nearly doubled its humanitarian appeal for Syria on Friday, seeking $347 million for people in need, including more than half a million children forced to flee their homes.

With the civil war intensifying, the number of people in need of assistance has doubled since July to 2.5 million, prompting the dramatic increase in the U.N. appeal for aid.

The stepped up plea comes even as the original appeal for $180 million is only half-funded. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged donors to increase their contributions.

The European Union announced Friday it will provide an additional €60 million ($76 million) in humanitarian aid for the war-torn country.

That announcement came days after France decided to provide direct aid and money to five rebel-held Syrian cities, as it intensifies efforts to weaken President Bashar Assad. It was the first such move by a western power amid mounting calls for the international community to do more to prevent bloodshed.

In Italy on Friday, U.S. Senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman and Lindsay Graham urged Washington to help arm Syria's rebels with weapons and create a safe zone inside the country for a transition government.

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said that more than 1.2 million people are displaced inside Syria, half of them children.

There are also nearly 250,000 Syrian refugees in neighboring Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, including more than 100,000 people who were registered as refugees in August alone, he said.

The updated U.N. humanitarian plan focuses on health, food, livelihoods, repairing infrastructure, community services, education and shelter in conflict areas including Homs, Hama, Idlib, Damascus, Deir el-Zour and Aleppo, as well as areas hosting large numbers of internally displaced people.

Nesirky said the plan includes 57 projects.

With thousands of Syrians fleeing the fighting, the U.N. refugee agency said its share of the new $347 million appeal is doubling to $41.7 million.

The agency is seeking funds for household items, medical assistance, rehabilitation of shelters and counseling of displaced populations, spokesman Adrian Edwards said in Geneva. The agency is also seeking help to provide financial assistance for 200,000 people considered vulnerable and to encourage displaced Syrian children to return to school, he said.

The new EU funds will go to agencies that provide shelter, medical aid, and for other humanitarian efforts, Kristalina Georgieva, EU commissioner for humanitarian aid, said at a foreign ministers meeting in Cyprus.

At the meeting, British Foreign Minister William Hague stressed that EU countries can only provide non-lethal aid to Syrian opposition groups because of an EU arms embargo that renders the supply of any weapons illegal.

French officials have acknowledged providing communications and other non-lethal equipment to Syrian rebel forces, but say they won't provide weapons without international agreement.

"At the moment we have a European Union arms embargo on Syria, it's not possible or legal for any EU nation to send weapons to anybody in Syria and therefore our chosen route and is the same route of France and the United States, is to give non-lethal assistance and we're doing that," Hague told reporters.

He said Britain is also mulling sending protective clothing that doesn't fall under the arms ban.

The three U.S. senators took a tougher stance as they addressed the Ambrosetti Forum, a gathering of political and business leaders on the shores of Lake Como in Italy.

McCain blasted President Barack Obama, who defeated him in the 2008 presidential election, for recently setting the "red line" for Syria at use of chemical weapons.

"If you're Bashar Assad ... maybe you interpret that to mean that you can do anything short of chemical weapons before the United States will intervene," he said.


Associated Press Writers Menelaos Hadjicostis in Nicosia, Cyprus, and Dan Perry in Cernobbio, Italy, contributed to this report.