EU commits $654 million more in aid for Syria

BRUSSELS (AP) - On the eve of a United Nations (UN) conference on Syria, the European Union (EU) on Thursday committed 400 million euros (S$654 million) more in aid to deal with the humanitarian crisis caused by the civil war.

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said that the ''worsening of the situation requires extraordinary measures" and called on other wealthy nations to step up to the plate with big donations.

More than 70,000 people have been killed in the more than two-year-old Syrian conflict, which has created a refugee flow of some 1.6 million people. The EU and its member nations had already committed 840 million euros in humanitarian aid.

Mr Barroso acknowledged however the limits of humanitarian aid, calling it "only a palliative".

"What we need is a political solution to the conflict that guarantees a halt in the violence," he said.

The 27-nation EU, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, has imposed a slew of punitive measures on the regime of President Bashar Assad and, led by France and Britain, has opened the way to start sending arms to the moderate opposition forces.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres immediately held up the EU contribution as an example to follow. "I encourage other donors to come forward as the European Union has done," he said.

The EU contribution was among the largest so far to the Syria crisis by any donor, Mr Gutteres said. It was unclear how much the individual EU nations would further add to the donation.

On top of seeking relief for people inside Syria, funds would also be used to back up Jordan and Lebanon, two of the largest refugee-hosting countries.

The aid group Doctors Without Borders warned on Thursday that the needs of civilians in Syria and neighbouring countries far outstripped the relief currently being supplied.

Children, pregnant women, people with chronic health problems and wounded civilians were in urgent need of greater assistance, it said.