About 2.5 million people caught up in Syria's fighting need aid, the United Nations said on Friday, double the number it estimated in June.

The sharp rise was caused by an upsurge in violence over the summer, particularly in the capital Damascus and the country's economic center Aleppo, UN officials said during a meeting with major donors, including the United States and Russia.

"The situation for the people of Syria people is appalling and getting worse every day," John Ging, director of operations for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs )OCHA), told the gathering.

The United Nations also almost doubled its appeal for funds to purchase food, medicine, sanitation equipment and othersupplies to $347 million from a previous $180 million.  

A total of $103 million funding had already come in, said OCHA.

After the Friday meeting, the European Commission said it would give a further 50 million euros ($63 millon), on top of its existing 69 million euro contribution.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 23,000 people have died in an uprising against Syrian President Assad that has lasted more than 17 months.

Around 200,000 Syrians have fled to neighboring Turkey,Jordan and Iraq.

President Assad met the new head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Damascus on Tuesday and promised to allow the agency to expand its humanitarian operations in his country.

Assad and his ministers appeared to be sincere about his intentions, ICRC chief Peter Maurer told reporters in Geneva on Friday.

"From his detailed questions, I drew the conclusion that President Assad is seriously interested in solving these problems," he added.

Asked if he expected any real action from the Syrian government which made similar, largely unfulfilled, promises tothe ICRC in April, Maurer replied: "There is a good English saying: The proof of the pudding is in the eating."

The ICRC says it encounters huge bureaucratic and securityproblems when it tries to bring supplies into Syria anddistribute them.

Maurer said the ICRC had also been in contact with Syrian opposition figures in other countries and was seeking contacts with opposition forces on the ground inside Syria to ease theway for supplies.

"But the opposition is a splintered movement ... We can't know if we have talked to the right people at the right levels,"he added

Meanwhile, European Union foreign ministers sharply criticized the United Nations Security Council for failing to present a united front on Syria on Friday.

"This is a real failure of the security council ... that the world community cannot find common ground to stop these atrocities and barbarities," Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said as he arrived for an informal meeting with his counterparts in Cyprus.

Russia and China have repeatedly blocked council moves to condemn or introduce sanctions against the regime of President Bashar Assad.

"Can we let a civil war take hold indefinitely because some countries are exercising their veto right in the Security Council?" Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders added. "I have to say that there is now hesitation between that absolute respect of a Security Council agreement and the duty to intervene."


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