U.S. Markets open in 2 hrs 52 mins

Kuwait announces $500 million pledge to Syria

Adam Schreck, Associated Press

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, right, shake hands as they pose for photos before the start of their meeting at Bayan Palace in Kuwait City, Kuwait,Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Pool)

KUWAIT CITY (AP) -- Kuwait pledged $500 million and the United States promised $380 million to alleviate the suffering of Syrians affected by the country's civil war at the start of an international fundraising conference in the Gulf nation Wednesday that international aid officials hope will generate billions of dollars needed this year.

The United Nations is appealing for $6.5 billion this year to help Syrians affected the war, its largest-ever funding request for a single crisis. Officials don't expect to raise the entire amount in Kuwait but do hope the event focuses greater international attention on the conflict, now in its third year.

"The fighting has set Syria back by years, even decades," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at the start of the event at the lavish Bayan Palace in the Kuwaiti capital.

Ban said it was vital that the "burden is shared" in helping meet Syria's growing humanitarian needs.

Kuwait's emir, Sheik Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, opened the conference by pledging $500 million, significantly topping the OPEC member nation's pledge of $300 million last year.

He urged the U.N. Security Council to exert greater effort in bringing an end to the crisis.

"I call on Security Council and member states to put aside their differences to reach a solution," he said. "'The Security Council should assume its historical responsibility."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. contribution of $380 million will bring brings America's humanitarian aid contribution to Syrian victims to $1.7 billion since the war began.

Half of the money — $177 million — will go to U.N. programs for victims still in Syria. The rest is for neighboring nations that have taken in an estimated 2.3 million refugees who have fled the country.

"We are under no illusion that our job, or any of our jobs here, are to just write a check," said Kerry, blaming Syrian President Bashar Assad for starving his people and blocking international aid workers from providing aid in some of Syria's hardest-hit areas. "The international community must use every tool at our disposal to draw the world's attention to these offenses. They are not just offenses against conscience. They also are offenses against the laws of war."

Last year's donor conference in Kuwait raised more than $1.5 billion in humanitarian aid pledges, and officials are hoping to at least raise that much again this year. Much of last year's total came from Western-allied Gulf states.

Humanitarian needs have escalated dramatically since a similar donor conference in the oil-rich Gulf nation last January.

The United Nations warns that 9.3 million people inside Syria need assistance as the conflict grinds on, including some 6.5 million inside Syria who have been driven from their homes.

More than 2 million people have been uprooted from their homes, many scattered in refugee camps and informal settlements dotting neighboring Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq.

The Kuwait meeting, chaired by Ban, takes place a week before peace talks on Syria are due to be held in Switzerland. The U.N. chief on Tuesday visited a Syrian refugee camp in northern Iraq, where he praised the largely autonomous Kurdish regional government for hosting more than 200,000 refugees on territory it administers.


Associated Press writer Lara Jakes contributed to this report.


Follow Adam Schreck on Twitter at www.twitter.com/adamschreck .