Scores of aid nonprofits are suspending cooperation with the United Nations in Syria amid controversy over reported links between the U.N. aid program and President Bashar al-Assad, the Thomson Reuters Foundation writes. A coalition of 73 charities signed an open letter asserting that U.N. agencies and partners were under the "significant and substantial" influence of the Assad regime, which is fighting rebel groups and Islamic militants in a war that has killed more than 250,000 Syrians and displaced millions.
U.N. work in the country came under fire last week when The Guardian reported that lucrative aid contracts had gone to people and entities closely allied with Mr. Assad, including a charity set up by his wife and companies under U.S. and European Union sanctions. In their letter, the nonprofits said the Syrian government is stopping aid from reaching areas outside its control, and they called for a new monitoring body to oversee the humanitarian effort.
A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that the Syrian government insists the international body work with a list of approved partners in delivering aid but that the U.N. is "going to continue to engage with them and all humanitarian partners in order to improve our collective efforts and reach as many people as we can in Syria."