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Syria’s opposition coalition makes a case for help

The exodus of Syrian refugees reached record highs in the month of January, the UN has announced. The main opposition coalition is in Paris to appeal for more funds for the fight to oust President Bashar Assad.

More than 125,000 Syrians have fled to neighboring countries since the beginning of 2013, the highest number in such a short span since the conflict began in March 2011, according to the UN Refugee Agency. Jordan announced that 52,000 Syrians entered the country this month.

"The international community must give the coalition the means to act on behalf of the Syrian people," said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who chaired the meeting in Paris.

At the meeting, attended by representatives from 50 nations and various organizations, France pleaded for countries to make good on their promises of aid to the opposition. Help pledged at a Friends of Syria conference in Morocco in December has yet to come through, with the UN so far collecting less than 5 percent of the billion dollars in urgent aid it had appealed for. Another major donor conference is scheduled for Kuwait on Wednesday.

‘Empty-handed'

Relief officials say they have struggled to come up with the funds to purchase basic supplies such as blankets, tents and food. The shortfall in funding has hindered Jordan's efforts to open a second refugee camp, a 30,000-capacity facility in the north.

The Britain-based nongovernmental organization Oxfam has begun efforts to raise 12 million pounds ($18.9 million, 14 million euros) to help thousands of Syrian refugees. The United States plans to send $10 million to help alleviate hunger in northern Syria.

Riad Seif, the vice president of the National Coalition for Syrian Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, pleaded for "tangible results," both in aid and political support. The Coalition "cannot keep returning empty-handed," Seif told the conference.

Losing control

Fabius also said that the lack of outside support could make the rebels susceptible to help from extremists.

"Facing the collapse of a state and society, it is Islamist groups that risk gaining ground if we do not act as we should," he said. "We cannot let a revolution that started as a peaceful and democratic protest degenerate into a conflict of militias."

Inside Syria, media reported that government forces repelled a rebel attack on a military airport in the northwestern province of Idlib. Shelling continued to target the province of Aleppo, Syria's largest city and economic hub, as well as areas on the outskirts of the capital, Damascus.

According to activists, the Free Syrian Army has taken control of a key military checkpoint near the Damascus airport. The activists also reported that violence across Syria killed at least 60 people Monday.

More than 60,000 people have died in the conflict, according to UN estimates.

mkg/dr (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)

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