The European Union on Thursday pledged 560 million euros ($600 million) to help countries neighboring Syria cope with the costs of hosting Syrians displaced by the years of conflict in their country.
"Unfortunately, over the last year there has been little progress, very little progress, towards a resolution of the Syria conflict," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said as he announced the pledge at an international donors' conference in Brussels.
He emphasized that the aid was for Syrians, not the Damascus government led by President Bashar al-Assad.
Since 2011, more than 500,000 people have been killed in Syria after Assad's brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters plunged the country into a complex war that drew in foreign powers and jihadists.
The UN says more than 12 million Syrians were displaced by the conflict, most of them inside Syria, and with 5.4 million living as refugees in neighboring countries.
Despite UN efforts, "the conditions are not in place for the European Union to change its policy on Syria," which would require "genuine political reforms" in the country, Borrell said.
The EU will maintain its sanctions on Assad's regime and not support the return of Syrians to that country unless they are "voluntary," safe and monitored by international groups, he said.
Assad, who stayed in power thanks to support from allies Iran and Russia, has become less of an international pariah by being welcomed back last month into the Arab League.
"This conference comes at the right time, especially after Syria returns to its seat in the Arab League," Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein said as he arrived for the Brussels conference.
He acknowledged there would be "sharp discussions" on Syria's re-joining the League, "but we have an opinion and we will express our opinions."
No reconstruction help
Borrell, speaking after a sideline meeting with Hussein, said: "The European Union policy on Syria has not changed — we will not re-establish full diplomatic relations with the Assad regime or start working on reconstruction until a genuine and comprehensive political transition is firmly on the way, which is not the case."
He added: "We have to remain committed to justice and accountability for the crimes committed during more than a decade of conflict."
Lebanon's minister responds
Lebanon's Social Affairs Minister Hector Hajjar responded in a series of tweets to Borrell's statement.
"We respect your humanitarian choice and we worked according to it for the last 12 years, but its result was not good on the Syrian refugees or on the Lebanese society that is hosting them."
"As for your political choice [not to normalize relations with Assad], it has proven its failure through 12 years, but we are willing to support it if you decide to host 7 million Syrian refugees in Europe, on the condition that they would be sent back to their country when a political solution that is clear to the Syrian crisis and accepted according to your standards is reached," Hajjar added.
The UN's special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, told the conference that, while he believed "we are at an inflection point" on Syria, "the causes and consequences of the conflict are still not being comprehensively addressed."
Last year's donors' conference in Brussels for displaced Syrians raised pledges of $6.7 billion, and the one before that $6.4 billion.
The EU overall contributed more than 70 percent of those totals, taking into account amounts pledged by Brussels and the individual pledges made by each of the EU's member state governments.
Last year, Borrell pledged one billion euros, which brought the total EU institutional amount to 1.56 billion euros.
While its headline offer was lower this time, in March the EU pledged 950 million euros for Syrians in a separate donors' conference that raised $7 billion to help Turkey and Syria in the wake of a massive earthquake that killed more than 55,000 people.
The total amount pledged from the Brussels donors' conference, which gathered representatives from 57 countries and dozens of international organizations, was to be given later Thursday.
"Unfortunately, over the last year there has been little progress, very little progress, towards a resolution of the Syria conflict," EU foreign policy...