Global donors to seek more than $6 billion for Syrian aid

Children react during a media tour in Douma near Damascus, Syria April 23, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 23 April 2018
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Global donors to seek more than $6 billion for Syrian aid

  • The $6-billion target is similar to the amount raised last year
  • Rebuilding destroyed cities such as Aleppo is likely to take billions more dollars

BRUSSELS: Governments will seek more than $6 billion in aid for Syria at a two-day donor conference from Tuesday, which the European Union hopes will also offer Russia, Turkey and Iran a chance to renew peace efforts.
As the conflict enters its eighth devastating year, Brussels has invited some 85 governments and non-governmental agencies to raise funds for humanitarian aid, limited reconstruction and de-mining of shattered cities.
“Funding the aid response is critical,” said Robert Beer at aid agency CARE International. “But funding is only part of the picture — the systematic and deliberate blocking of aid inside Syria must end, and aid workers must be granted unimpeded access to civilians,” he said in a statement.
This, the third annual conference after London in 2016 and then in Brussels last year, could help return some electricity and water to cities heavily damaged in the West’s campaign to push out Islamic militants.
But the majority is likely to go to help the refugees outside Syria and the millions displaced within, including some 160,000 people who fled a bombing campaign by Syrian ally Russia in eastern Ghouta near Damascus over the past six weeks.
The $6-billion target is similar to the amount raised last year, but officials say they want to go beyond that level now.
Rebuilding destroyed cities such as Aleppo is likely to take billions more dollars, however, and cannot start until powers involved in the proxy war back a peaceful transition away from the rule of Syrian President Bashar Assad, the EU says.
Some of the biggest aid donors include the European Union, the United States, Norway and Japan.
Governments are also expected to send senior ministers, with Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Recep Akdag confirmed and, possibly, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif due, EU officials said.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has been invited, but it is not clear he will attend. The United Nations special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, who met Lavrov in Moscow on April 20, is also expected in Brussels.
Last year’s absence of top-level officials from Russia, Turkey and the United States, as well as a chemical attack in Syria, overshadowed the conference’s efforts to help end the conflict between anti-Assad rebels, Islamist militants, Syrian troops and foreign forces.
This time, the EU’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini is appealing to the trio of Iran, Russia and Turkey — the key powers with direct military involvement in the war — to support a lasting cease-fire to allow aid access and medical evacuations.
Mogherini wrote to the three last February to demand a 30-day humanitarian cease-fire. That has not seen a response as yet, said an EU official involved in Syria policy.

Meanwhile, more than a dozen Syrian regime forces were killed fighting Daesh in a devastated southern district of the capital Damascus, a monitoring group said on Monday.
Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad ramped up their ground operations and bombing raids against the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmuk in southern Damascus last Thursday.


US Treasury imposes sanctions on Iranian network supporting child soldiers

Updated 46 min 41 sec ago
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US Treasury imposes sanctions on Iranian network supporting child soldiers

WASHINGTON: The US Treasury announced new sanctions against Iran's Bank Mellat and Mehr Eqtesad Bank on Tuesday.

The Treasury also announced sanctions against Iran Tractor Manufacturing Company, Esfehan's Mobarakeh Steel Company, as well as other firms.

According to the Tresury, the group make up a multibillion-dollar financial network that supports an Iranian paramilitary force that recruits and trains child soldiers for the country's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

The Bonyad Taavon Basij network supports a volunteer paramilitary group, the Basij Resistance Force, which works with the IRGC, the Treasury said in a statement.

Both Basij groups were targeted by the new sanctions.

"This vast network provides financial infrastructure to the Basij's efforts to recruit, train, and indoctrinate child soldiers who are coerced into combat under the IRGC's direction," said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

The Basij is involved in violent crackdowns and serious human rights abuses within Iran, the statement said. It recruits and trains fighters for the IRGC-Quds Force, including Iranian children as young as 12, who then deploy to Syria to support the government of President Bashar al-Assad regime, it said.

The designations highlight that "this Iranian regime is not a normal government," a senior administration official said. "Normal governments don't have revolutionary arms that support revolution and wreak havoc with their neighbors. They don't recruit indoctrinate and use child soldiers."

The sanctions were imposed on Bank Mellat, Mehr Eqtesad Bank, Mehr Eqtesad Iranian Investment Co and five other investment firms, the Treasury said.

The sanctions also target Iran Tractor Manufacturing Co, the Middle East's largest tractor manufacturer, and Esfahan's Mobarakeh Steel Co, the largest steelmaker in the Middle East and North Africa region, Treasury said.