The Local Coordination Committees of Syria (LCCS), a network of activists inside the country, have also been critical to providing humanitarian assistance to those in need within Syria. Rafif Jouejati, a spokeswoman for the LCCS, says that the network has been delivering food baskets across the country, launching a blanket drive, and setting up field schools for children whose education has been halted by the civil war.
According to Jouejati, the LCCS distributed nearly 3,000 food baskets throughout Syria during September, including 1,700 in northern Idlib Province and over 700 in Damascus and its suburbs. In October, the Foundation to Restore Equality and Education in Syria (FREE-Syria), an aid organization that coordinates with the LCCS, also provided enough funds to supply 1,000 blankets, 1,000 food baskets, support for 6 orphans for half a year, and roughly $1,500 worth of toys and gifts for the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha.
The logistical difficulties of delivering aid, however, have constrained the number of people that the LCCS can reach. "Activists delivering [food baskets] are subject to detention and torture, or risk getting shot on the spot when caught, and the merchandise is easily stolen," Jouejati said. "Activists have had to establish supply routes ... bribe regime and other officials, and develop coordinated schedules with other activists to minimize danger and maximize the quantity of supplies they can deliver."
In addition to the violence, bureaucratic challenges also hinder efforts to get aid to Syrian in need. Inside Syria, the United Nations rely on what it terms a "cluster approach," where each separate agency focuses on issues related to its area of expertise -- UNICEF concentrates on children's health, for example, while the World Food Programme provides food to Syrians in need. Redmond says that the aid organizations also work closely with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), making use of its distribution networks to funnel assistance into the country.
But some activists view the presence of the SARC, an organization tied to President Bashar al-Assad's regime, with skepticism. "SARC is a regime-controlled organization, so one never knows if one is dealing with a humanitarian or a regime plant," Jouejati said. "SARC has been able to deliver goods to hard-hit areas, but only at the whim of the regime."
Nobody is denying that some SARC employees have provided invaluable assistance to stricken regions -- often at great risk to themselves. In January, the SARC's secretary-general was shot and killed while driving along the highway connecting Aleppo and Damascus in a clearly marked Red Crescent vehicle. The government blamed an "armed terrorist group" for the crime, while the anti-Assad opposition blamed regime forces.
However, activists view the top leadership of the SARC with suspicion, fearing that it is not giving anti-Assad areas of the country the same assistance as other regions. Much of the distrust centers on the aid organization's president, Abdul Rahman Attar, a Sunni businessman who rose to prominence under the Assad regime and a figure aid workers had long criticized for the level of control he exerted over international NGOs operating in Syria.
"He's a big personality, and one of the richest, most powerful men in Syria and he doesn't want to lose control over NGOs to the [Foreign Ministry]" said an international aid worker in a 2009 State Department cable released by WikiLeaks.
Activists' suspicions of the SARC, needless to say, are mirrored in the Assad regime's hostility toward aid groups connected with the opposition. It is yet another indication of how humanitarian efforts are at the mercy of Syria's poisonous politics: As the war grinds on, millions of people remain caught in the middle as winter approaches.