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Aid scheme 'to deter UK fighters'

An initiative for volunteers to help humanitarian aid in Syria is launched today to deter young men and women from going to fight in the war ravaged country.

The charity Syria Relief in Manchester is being backed by the local police and council, with the opening of a new volunteering facility where humanitarian aid can be donated and packaged before being sent to Syria.

It comes after a number of young men and women have left their homes in the city to get involved in the troubled country.

Twin 16-year-old sisters from a Somalia family living in Manchester are thought to have travelled to Syria last month, without telling their family, after catching flights to Turkey. Their current whereabouts and welfare are unknown.

Their brother was reportedly a fighter for the extremist militant group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis).

About 500 UK Muslims are thought to have gone to fight in Syria.

The aid facility in Openshaw, Manchester, will give volunteers an opportunity to support the humanitarian effort by making donations of clothes, blankets and food and get involved with packing them onto containers ready to be sent to those in need in Syria.

Sir Peter Fahy, chief constable of Greater Manchester Police (GMP) said: "We know there are many people in Greater Manchester and nationally who want to support the millions of people who are caught up in the Syrian conflict.

"Anyone who does travel there is putting themselves in considerable danger and that is why this volunteering facility is so valuable right here in Greater Manchester, giving people the opportunity to donate and assist with the humanitarian effort without putting themselves and others in danger.

"It's very positive to see communities and organisations working together and this partnership highlights the support that can be given locally to a national cause. "

Manchester City Councillor Bernard Priest added: "I know that many Mancunians and people from across the North West have been strongly moved by the plight of those suffering because of the Syrian conflict, and want to do more than just donate money to charity.

"This facility is an excellent opportunity for our communities to provide experienced organisations with items that will make a difference to those in need - such as clothes, blankets and food. I urge Manchester residents to visit this centre rather than risk tragedy by attempting to travel to Syria themselves."

An estimated 6.5 million people have been displaced in Syria since an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.

Chairman of Syria Relief, Dr Basil Hatahet said: "While the news currently focuses on the brutality of the war and the emergence of fundamentalist groups in Syria, the ever-worsening humanitarian situation and human suffering continues."

The volunteering facility, provided by Manchester City Council at New Smithfield Market on Whitworth St East in the city, opens at 9am today.

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