U.N. relief official arrives in Syria to assess fighting's impact
BEIRUT -- United Nations emergency relief coordinator Valerie Amos arrived in Syria on Tuesday as part of a three-day trip to the region to discuss humanitarian aid for those trapped by the escalating combat or forced to flee their homes.
Amos’ visit came a day after activists said more than 150 people across the country were killed in the ongoing conflict.
Amos will discuss ways to increase increase relief efforts and reduce civilian suffering with Syrian authorities, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and other humanitarian groups. Later in her trip she will meet with refugee families in Lebanon and talk with the Lebanese government and relief organizations on how best to support them.
As fighting in recent weeks has stepped up in areas where people had previously sought refuge -- including the capital, Damascus, and the country’s commercial hub, Aleppo -- nowhere in the country now seems safe.
The United Nation estimates that 2 million people have been affected by the conflict between government forces and rebels and more than 1 million have been internally displaced. More than 140,000 people have fled the violence and crossed into Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq.
In Jordan, a former Syrian prime minister who defected to the opposition told reporters Tuesday that President Bashar Assad's regime was teetering and urged other political and military leaders to tip the scales and join the rebel side, the Associated Press reported.
The comments by Riad Hijab were his first public statements since leaving his post and fleeing to Jordan with his family last week. Hijab is the highest-ranking political figure in Syria to defect.
“The regime is on the verge of collapse morally and economically in addition to cracks in the military,” Hijab told a news conference in the Jordanian capital, Amman.
Meanwhile, the head of the United Nations monitoring mission Tuesday said that the indiscriminate use of heavy weapons by Assad's forces as well as targeted attacks by the opposition are increasing.
“It is clear that violence is increasing in many parts of Syria,” said Lt. Gen. Babacar Gaye of Senegal, speaking at a news conference in Damascus. “Our patrols are monitoring the impact of this violence, visiting internally displaced people and hospitals.”
The monitoring mission has intensified its efforts to broker “local pauses” in the fighting to enable assistance to reach civilians, Gaye said. Monitors had suspended their regular patrols and monitoring activities in mid-June as the violence escalated.
“The conflict has gone on too long and far too many people are suffering,” he said.
The U.N. monitoring mission, which began in April and has been criticized for failing to quell the bloodshed, only has six days to go before its authorization expires.
“We will continue to the last minute of our mandate to urge the parties to move from confrontation to dialogue,” Gaye said.
Photo: Valerie Amos, left, the U.N. chief for emergency relief, meets with Lt. Gen. Babacar Gaye, head of the U.N. monitoring mission in Syria, in Damascus on Tuesday. Credit: European Pressphoto Agency