EU boosts aid to Syria refugees, sectarianism deepens | News | DW | 06.06.2013
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EU boosts aid to Syria refugees, sectarianism deepens

Syria's widening conflict has prompted the EU to grant further refugee aid. A top Saudi cleric has condemned Hezbollah militia intervention in Syria. Austria says it is pulling its UN troops from the Golan Heights.

Russia's FSB intelligence agency said Thursday that 200 Islamists from its North Caucasus region had joined al-Qaeda insurgents inside Syria.

Doctors without Borders warned that needs of refugees inside and outside Syria far outstripped relief deliveries, a day before a UN humanitarian conference on Syria in Geneva. Children (boy pictured above in Aleppo), pregnant women and wounded civilians were in desperate need, it said.

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Doctors in Syria: Suffering 'unimaginable'

Simultaneously on Thursday, European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso announced that the EU would grant a further 400 million euros ($469 million) for 1.6 million Syria refugees and seven million people displaced inside war-torn Syria.

Nations neighboring Syria faced "unbearable pressure," Barroso said.

Since the war began two years ago, the EU has already given 840 million euros in refugee aid.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres welcomed the EU move, saying Syria was "fast becoming one of the most tragic, most dangerous and largest crises since the end of the Cold War," with suffering on an "enormous scale."

Austria to withdraw observer troops

Austria reacted to a brief rebel seizure of a border crossing between Syria and Israel on Thursday morning by saying it would pull its 380 troops from the 1,000-member UN peacekeeping force patrolling a buffer zone on the Golan Heights.

Syrian soldiers later evicted the rebels at the Quneitra crossing between Syria and Israel. The UN said mortar fire injured two of soldiers of the observer force, UNDOF.

It was established to monitor a Syria-Israel ceasefire at the end of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, which also involved Egypt.

Chancellor Werner Fayman said risks for Austrian soldiers had risen to an "unacceptable level."

Freedom of movement in the narrow 74-kilometer-long (46-miles-long) Golan buffer zone "de facto no longer exists," said Faymann.

Israel said it regretted Austria's decision, adding that it expected the UN to uphold the peacekeeping mission.

Sectarian divide widens

Sectarianism deepened in Syria's war on Thursday when the top religious cleric in the Sunni kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Shaikh, described the Lebanon-based Shiite militia Hezbollah as being a "repulsive" group for siding with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces against mainly Sunni rebel forces.

The Saudi SPA press agency quoted al-Shaikh as endorsing Qatar-based Sunni cleric Yusuf al-Quaradawi for recently revoking his previous support for Hezbollah. The Saudi cleric called on scholars and politicians to stop Hezbollah's "aggression."

Hezbollah fighters backed a 17-day Syrian army assault on the strategic Syrian town of Qusair near Lebanon that culminated on Wednesday in its recapture from rebels.

On Thursday, the International Red Cross it was trying to get access to civilians and wounded still trapped inside Qusair.

Militants Syria-bound, says Russia's FSB

Russian news agencies quoted FSB head Alexander Bortnikov as saying that 200 Russian Islamists with links to insurgency in Russia's North Caucasus region were fighting in Syria for the militant network al Qaeda. The number from Russia was growing, he added.

Bortnikov said such fighters could return to Russia with battlefield experience and present a greater danger. Russia is a key ally of Syria's al-Assad.

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

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