Washington — Along with joining the Arab League and others in the international community in pressing Bashar al-Assad to end the violence in Syria and agree to a peaceful political transition, the Obama administration is also providing more than $12 million in humanitarian relief for the Syrian people.
According to a March 15 State Department fact sheet, the aid is being directed through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the World Food Programme (WFP) and other nongovernmental organizations.
The fact sheet noted that on March 14, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization issued a special alert over the state of food security in Syria, particularly for vulnerable groups. The WFP estimates that 1.4 million people face food insecurity due to the ongoing violence.
UNHCR and the ICRC, which are receiving $5.5 million and $3 million, respectively, in U.S. funds, are “delivering critical medical services and supplies, food, water, blankets, hygiene kits and heaters to the Syrian people,” the fact sheet said.
The U.S. funding “will also provide support for host families who are sheltering displaced Syrians due to the ongoing violence and to those who have fled to neighboring countries,” it added.
The WFP is planning to provide aid to 100,000 Syrians who have been affected by the now yearlong civil conflict by providing food rations to “displaced Syrians and host families, households that have lost breadwinners or livelihoods, female-headed households, and unaccompanied minors,” according to the fact sheet.
Approximately $3 million of the U.S. funding has been designated for the WFP. The organization has been able to deliver 16,850 family food rations — sufficient to feed approximately 84,000 people for one month — to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent’s warehouses. The Red Crescent has, in turn, distributed 7,415 WFP food rations to beneficiaries over the past month, but several of the worst-affected areas “remain inaccessible due to insecurity,” the fact sheet said.
In addition, the Obama administration is working to boost existing stockpiles of humanitarian supplies and equipment in the region that can be delivered to vulnerable and besieged Syrian communities as access and conditions allow, the fact sheet said.
ONE YEAR SINCE PEACEFUL PROTESTS BEGAN
March 15 marks the one-year anniversary since Syrians first gathered to protest the arrests of schoolchildren in the town of Deraa after graffiti criticizing Assad appeared there.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters March 15 that the anniversary marks “a particularly horrific and violent day,” as security forces responded to those initial protests with brutal force.
“As the peaceful protests have grown, the Assad regime has become more and more bloody and violent vis-a-vis its own people, has gone into town after town trying to suppress the violence with guns rather than sitting and talking with its own people,” Nuland said. The United Nations estimates that more than 7,500 Syrians have been killed over the past year.
The United States and others have responded to the crackdown by increasing their sanctions against the Assad regime, with “more and more countries closing the noose on Syria, refusing to trade, refusing to conduct normal diplomacy, refusing to allow normal flights and commerce,” Nuland said, adding that the Obama administration will “keep up the pressure until the Syrian people achieve their objective.”
Nuland also said the United States has no reason to believe that email messages reportedly from Assad and leaked to the U.K. paper The Guardian earlier March 15 are “anything but authentic,” and she said the messages “tell an amazing tale” of the Syrian ruler.
“Far from being detached from what his military is doing, Assad seems to take pride in the viciousness of his own security forces. And he seems to make fun of the idea of actually sitting down and talking with his people,” she said.
The leak “really illustrates the character of this guy … and why he has lost legitimacy not only in the eyes of his people but in the eyes of the international community,” Nuland said.