Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Baird changes mind on aid to Syria

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OTTAWA -- Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has abruptly reversed course on his plan to get badly needed medical supplies into Syria by way of a Canadian aid organization.

Just days after travelling all the way to Jordan to announce some $2 million in aid, Baird confirmed Wednesday the government will not be providing the money to the group known as Canadian Relief for Syria.

"We wanted to ensure that supplies could make their way to the victims of the Assad regime in the best way possible, and that it wouldn't fund things like warehouses and infrastructure," Baird said.

He said concerns about where the money would be going arose after the announcement, when the government sat down with the group to reach a contribution agreement.

"The current intention will not be pursued," he said. "We will find alternatives."

It remains a "top priority" of the federal government to assist the victims of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, whether they be opposition fighters, civilians or others caught in the crossfire, he added.

"The situation in Syria is a top priority for me, for my department and for our allies, and that's why we'll be moving as expeditiously as we possibly can."

Momtaz Almoussly, a spokesman for the aid group, expressed shock Wednesday at the sudden about-face, insisting no one ever said the money would be used for anything but medical supplies and equipment.

"Maybe they sent an email or something, but nobody has spoken to us from the government about this decision," Almoussly said. He declined to comment further, saying he needed some time to figure out what had happened.

-- CP/AP

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 16, 2012 A9

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