International leaders’ pledges of $10bn (£6.9bn) for Syrian refugees has been overshadowed by collapsed peace talks and a major escalation of fighting on the ground.
The ending of the negotiations in Geneva and a Russian-backed regime offensive to encircle Aleppo raised the spectre of war without end and a continuous stream of refugees in the future.
Diplomatic relations between Russia and Turkey, backers respectively of the regime and rebels in Syria’s civil war, also worsened with Moscow accusing Turkey of preparing to invade Syria and the Turkish Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, claiming that Russian air strikes were paving the way for a siege designed to starve Aleppo, once the most populous city in Syria.
Mr Davutoglu had declared in the morning: “My mind is not now in London, but on our border, how to relocate these new people coming from Syria; 70,000 people in the camps in north Aleppo are moving towards Turkey, 300,000 people are ready to move towards Turkey.”
Regime tanks made further advances in the course of 4 February, lifting the siege of two Shia villages by the Sunni rebels and moving towards the main route to the Turkish border. According to reports, 100 rebel fighters and 60 regime troops died during the offensive.
As the donor conference closed in the evening, the Turkish Prime Minister said: “Another 10,000 refugees have left Aleppo and headed for Turkey while we have been there. Russian planes have been carrying out an air bombardment of Aleppo for the last three days. Civilians, schools and hospitals have been hit. The humanitarian corridor from Aleppo to Turkey is now under invasion of regime forces with the support of Russian warplanes.”
The plan by the regime and the Russians, Mr Davutoglusaid, was to replicate the siege of the town of Madaya, where dozens of people starved to death, in Aleppo. “The news from Geneva has been negative. If the humanitarian corridor gets cut, if the attacks continue, the opposition may not ever return to Geneva.”
David Cameron was determined to send a positive message from a summit of 60 countries, 30 world leaders and 90 humanitarian groups. The money pledged, he said, “will save lives, will give people the chance of a future. That, I think, is a good and vitally day’s work”.
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