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Syrian women activists meeting in Geneva are demanding they be given a key role at peace talks set to begin in Switzerland next week. The UN says massive funds are needed to aid Syrians affected by three years of war.
Women representatives have told international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi that women should make up 30 percent of negotiators at the talks, with a major focus on freeing detainees held by Syria's warring factions.
Prominent activist, Kefah ali Deeb, one of four elected at a three-day Syrian women's conference in Geneva, said Syria's women must be heard, because women and children made up "no less than 80 percent" of Syria's displaced people; According to UN estimates, more than 2.3 million Syrians have fled the country while some 6.5 million more are internally displaced.
Most pressing, she said, was to get detainees released from Syrian prisons where "hundreds of thousands" faced death, an issue which she said had received little media attention.
Deeb told Reuters that the death rate in some jails, such as the Military Security Branch 215 in Damascus, had reached 30 a day, mainly due to torture and malnourishment.
Sieges in some areas of Syria were driving stranded local populations into starvation, she added.
"If I tell you that there are children who are eating the leaves off trees, you have to believe me. This is not my imagination," Deeb said.
Another of the four lobbyists, Sabah Alhallak, said women who had worked on a new constitution for Syria since 2011 were "looking at what happened in Tunisia and Egypt and Libya," during the so-called "Arab Spring."
"There were a lot of lessons to prepare ourselves [for] and see what was coming our way," Alhallak said.
Another chosen representative, Rafif Jouejati, said if next week's conference failed, Syrian women's groups would push for a "Geneva 3, 4 or 5 – an acronym for the long-stalled talks sought by the international community.
If Geneva 2 doesn't work, we will push the men who are making war to make peace," Jouejati said.
Opposition still undecided
Next week's conference is meant to pave the way for talks between the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Syria's multi-faceted opposition.
A major bloc in the opposition National Coalition, the Syrian National Council, has so far refused to take part. It is due to give its final word on January 17.
Ahead of a donors' conference due to open in Kuwait City on Wednesday, UN chief Ban Ki-moon said Syria's crisis was "very serious."
Forty percent of Syria's hospitals had been destroyed, Ban said. "Another 20 percent are not functioning properly. This is a very sad situation."
UN regional coordinator Nigel Fischer said with Syria the world body was facing its "worst humanitarian crisis" in decades, requiring a massive 4.7 billion euros ($6.5 billion) to assist some 13.4 million affected Syrians.
The UN's World Food Program said it was boosting the provision of supplements to around 240,000 toddlers aged 6-23 months, to avert malnutrition.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that at least 130,000 people have been killed since March 2011, when Syria's conflict began as a series of anti-government protests during the height of the "Arab Spring."
ipj/kms (dpa, AFP, Reuters, AP)