NEWS

Syria War Leaves 7 Million Displaced, UN Says

09/02/2013 08:12 EDT | Updated 11/02/2013 05:12 EDT
AP
Syrian refugees cross into Iraq at the Peshkhabour border point in Dahuk, 260 miles (430 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. Around 30,000 Syrians, the vast majority of them Kurds, have fled the region over a five-day stretch and crossed the border to the self-ruled Kurdish region of northern Iraq. Another 4,000 made the trek across the frontier Tuesday, said Youssef Mahmoud, a spokesman for the UNHCR in Iraqi Kurdistan. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
The United Nations has yet to release findings from its mission in Syria to determine if chemical weapons were used in an Aug. 21 attack in the war-torn country, but its refugee agency has determined nearly one-third of the population — about seven million Syrians — has been displaced since the uprising began in March 2011.

The latest UN figures on the civil war that has left hospitals and burial sites overflowing were released after U.S. President Barack Obama, in an emotional and hard-nosed speech, said the U.S. should take military action against Syria, but that he will seek approval from Congress when it returns to business Sept. 9.

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On Monday, UN spokesman Tarik Kurdi said five million of the seven million displaced Syrians are still in the country, and that about two million have taken refuge in neighbouring countries. As well, two million of those directly affected by the war are children.

Kurdi told The Associated Press that UN assistance has been a "drop in the sea of humanitarian need," and that the funding gap is "very, very wide." He says international donors have sent less than one-third of the money needed to help those displaced by the war.

It's estimated more than 100,000 Syrians have been killed since the uprising began against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has vowed his country would "defend itself against any aggression" that may come in response to allegations of chemical weapons use. He has denied that Syria used chemical weapons.

The situation in Syria situation began heating up late last week, with Secretary of State John Kerry releasing figures that the U.S. says show that 1,429 people — nearly a third of them children — were killed by chemicals in the August attack. Doctors Without Borders pegs the death toll at much less.

On Monday, there will be no Labour Day rest for Obama, who is set to host Republican Senator John McCain, his 2008 presidential election opponent, to help him sell the idea of a U.S. military intervention in Syria.

Obama made it clear Saturday, when he spoke on the White House lawn, that he supports direct military action in Syria, saying chemical weapons use amounts to a "serious danger" to national security.

"It is the worst chemical attack in the 21st century," Obama said in his address, calling the alleged chemical weapons attack "an assault on human dignity."

However, Obama added that he would turn to Congress to get the go-ahead to take any military action, and that it will be ready to debate and vote on the issue when it resumes Sept. 9. U.S. navy ships in the Mediterranean Sea are ready to strike, said Obama, who has the power to unilaterally order an attack. However, he said, he has determined that the U.S. "will be better off" if Congress comes up with its own opinion.

While the U.S. is seeking allies to come onboard for action against Syria, Obama's attempt to garner support took a blow Friday when British politicians voted against any military response. Prime Minister David Cameron lost the vote 285-272, and said later that while he "strongly" believes in the need for a tough response to chemical weapons use, he also believes in respecting the will of the House of Commons.

In Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has also said that the country has no plans for a military mission of its own in Syria, but said the government supports its allies and has been convinced of the need for "forceful action."

A UN team spent four days in Syria investigating claims of chemical weapons use, and briefed UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on preliminary information about their findings, UN’s media office said.

UN investigators examined the area of the alleged gas attack for four days. They left Syria on Saturday for The Hague, where their findings were to be sent to laboratories around Europe for analysis.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons based in The Hague says examination of evidence could take up to three weeks.

Just want to live 'peacefully'

Syrian Dr. Mohammed Abu Omar, who lives in Moadamia City, a western suburb of Damascus, was reached by Derek Stoffel, Middle East correspondent for CBC News, to describe the horrors facing the people of Syria.

Omar said via Skype that Syrians welcome military intervention, but until now, "we didn’t have the trust in the West to do that, because we have two years of being killed at every moment and no one wants to stop the killer – Bashar [al-Assad’s] regime."

Speaking about the dire situation in Syria, the doctor said: “We don’t have food. We don’t have medical supplies. We are under siege since 10 months ago. We are under huge shelling every day. We are being killed every single moment. ... We just want to live the rest of our lives peacefully, without getting killed in every single moment.”

In other news on the weekend, the Arab League, in an urgent meeting in Cairo to discuss the situation in Syria, called for the United Nations and the international community to take steps against Assad's regime. Arab foreign ministers passed a final resolution urging the UN and the international community to "take the deterrent and necessary measures against the culprits of this crime that the Syrian regime bears responsibility for."

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