Clinton pledges $10 million to 'scale up' humanitarian efforts in Syria

Muzaffar Salman/AP

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday pledged $10 million to enhance humanitarian efforts in Syria, denouncing the escalating bloodshed at the hands of President Bashar al-Assad as an “appalling humanitarian disaster."

Conditions on the ground in Syria are dire and getting worse, Clinton said in Tunisia at the first meeting of Friends of Syria, a gathering of more than 60 countries and international organizations.

“Emergency assistance is desperately needed, but the regime is doing everything it can to prevent aid from reaching those who need it. It is going after aid workers, doctors, and journalists reporting on the suffering,” Clinton said. “We cannot wait for this crisis to become an even greater catastrophe.”

The influx of U.S. funds to “quickly scale up” humanitarian efforts will help support makeshift medical facilities, train emergency medical staff, and get clean water, food, blankets, heaters, and hygiene kits to Syrian civilians in need, Clinton said.

“This is not the end,'' Clinton said. "The United States will provide more humanitarian support in coming days."

The Friends of Syria group has demanded an immediate cease-fire so aid can be delivered to Syrians struggling under Assad's crackdown, especially in the city of Homs.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, President Obama said he was encouraged by the Friends of Syria meeting and promised the U.S. would "keep the pressure up, and look for every tool available to prevent the slaughter of innocents in Syria."

"It is important that we not be bystanders during these extraordinary events," Obama said alongside the Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt who was visiting Washington.

Clinton called upon her dozens of counterparts from Arab and European nations to increase the pressure on the Assad regime and send a clear message that Syria will “pay a heavy cost" for ignoring the will of the international community and violating its peoples' human rights. Clinton called for each country to impose travel bans on senior members of the Assad government -- as the Arab League has done -- and freeze their assets, boycott Syrian oil, suspend new investments, and consider closing embassies and consulates. 

Clinton had a message to Syrians who support Assad, singling out members of the Syrian military in particular.

“Understand that this regime has no future,” Clinton said. “The longer you carry out its campaign of violence, the more it will stain your honor. But if you refuse to take part in attacks on your fellow citizens, your countrymen will hail you as heroes.”

A group of senators, including Armed Services Committee ranking member John McCain, R-Ariz., hailed the Friends of Syria meeting as a "welcome forum" to isolate Assad and his defenders and supporters in Russia, China, and Iran. Still, the senators said the speeches and meetings won't stop the bloodshed, and they called for the United States to provide the Syrian opposition with access to weapons, tactical intelligence, communications equipment, financing, and medical supplies.

“We remain deeply concerned that our international diplomacy risks becoming divorced from the reality on the ground in Syria, which is now an armed conflict between Assad's forces and the people of Syria who are struggling to defend themselves against indiscriminate attacks," said McCain in a statement along with Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn. "What is needed urgently are tangible actions by the community of responsible nations to ensure that the Syrian people have the means to protect themselves against their attackers.... We should also explore measures that can be taken to disrupt Assad's ability to command and control his forces."

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said it was "an excellent idea" to arm Syria's opposition so that it can protect itself.

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