Aid Groups Report New Level of Misery Among Displaced Syrians

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New signs of misery plaguing Syria's war-ravaged civilians emerged on Tuesday, with the United Nations saying it is unable to feed a million hungry residents in combat zones and aid agencies reporting an outbreak of violence in a large refugee camp in Jordan, where a winter storm felled tents and left many frustrated inhabitants shivering in a cold rain.

Weather forecasters said another winter storm was threatening Syria and its neighbors with snow on Wednesday.

The World Food Program, the food agency of the United Nations, said it was providing food to one and a half million people inside Syria this month but as many as two and a half million need help, mostly in areas made hazardous by fighting between insurgents and loyalist forces of President Bashar al-Assad.

"Our partners are overstretched and there is no capacity to expand operations further; we need more implementing partners," said a World Food Program spokeswoman, Elizabeth Byrs, at the agency's Geneva headquarters.

She also said acute fuel shortages in Syria had caused delays in food deliveries and contributed to severe inflation in the price of bread because bakeries in Syria needed fuel for their ovens. In the contested northern city of Aleppo, for example, the price of a kilogram of bread is now 250 Syrian pounds, or about $3.50, at least 50 percent higher than in other parts of Syria and at least six times more than its cost when the Syrian conflict began nearly two years ago.

The United Nations appealed last month for $1.5 billion in additional aid to handle the growing humanitarian crisis created by the Syrian conflict, which has left at least 60,000 people dead and is threatening to destabilize the Middle East. More than half a million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries and the United Nations refugee agency has forecast a doubling of that number by the middle of 2013.

The most heavily burdened neighbors -- Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon -- have been persistently calling for more international aid, particularly during the cold winter months.

At the sprawling Zaatari refugee camp in northern Jordan on Tuesday, which houses 54,000 Syrians, at least 11 people were injured when fighting erupted during food distribution, after a night of relentless rain inundated parts of the encampment, according to Save the Children, one of the international groups that helps the United Nations refugee agency administer the camp. More than half of the injured were workers from Save the Children, the group said in a statement, but it was unclear how they had been injured.

"The incident followed a night of heavy storms, during which torrential rains and high winds swept away tents and left parts of the camp flooded," Save the Children said.

Mohammed Abu Asaker, a regional spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency, acknowledged weather-related problems at the camp, aggravated by a large number of new residents -- roughly 9,000 arrivals in the past week.

"It is a difficult situation in the camp," he said. "There is a frustration from the refugees. The number is increasing and the weather is very cold."

He also said every tent in the camp had a heater, "but the warmth is not enough -- we need more." He said the agency had recently distributed 50,000 extra blankets and added, "The refugees still feel cold but are not freezing."

Melissa Fleming, the chief spokeswoman for the refugee agency in Geneva, said in an e-mail message that most of the camp had withstood the rainfall and that aid workers were expediting efforts to relocate families into prefabricated housing. She attributed tensions among the camp population to "fears of worsening weather conditions, with some families rushing to occupy prefabs out of turn."

In Syria on Tuesday, activists reported a new outbreak of violence in the Yarmouk district south of Damascus, a longtime Palestinian refugee encampment convulsed by fighting last month when insurgents temporarily seized control. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based opposition group with a network of contacts in Syria, reported an unspecified number of casualties in the area, as well as shelling by the Syrian military aimed at insurgent pockets in other Damascus suburbs.

In a speech on Sunday, Mr. Assad, whose family has dominated Syria's politics for four decades, denounced the fomenters of the armed uprising against him as foreign stooges, rejected negotiations and instead offered his own plan for political changes that critics said was meant to keep him in power. His speech was denounced by the opposition, its Arab and Western supporters and the United Nations secretary general. On Tuesday, the prime minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a former friend of Mr. Assad's who has since become a strident foe, added his voice to the criticism.

"It is unimaginable to consider suggestions of a person who has killed his people with bombs, planes and shelling as democratic," Turkey's semiofficial Anatolian News Agency quoted Mr. Erdogan as saying.

Rick Gladstone reported from New York, and Nick Cumming-Bruce from Geneva. Reporting was contributed by Jodi Rudoren from Jerusalem, Ranya Kadri from Amman, Jordan, Hwaida Saad from Beirut, Lebanon, and Sebnem Arsu from Istanbul.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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