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Photograph: Photo by Philip Taylor, used under CC BY-SA

British Prime Minister David Cameron urged a "new approach" to helping millions of people caught up in the Syrian conflict on Thursday as leaders of some 70 nations gathered to pledge financial support to Syria.

Britain and the four other co-hosts of an international donors conference - Germany, Norway, Kuwait and the United Nations - hope participants will pledge about 9 billion dollars to help 13.5 million people in Syria and 4.4 million refugees in neighbouring states.

With hundreds of thousands of people risking their lives crossing the Aegean or the Balkans, a new approach is needed for the critical humanitarian situation in Syria.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced 2.3 billion euros (2.56 billion dollars) in aid over the next three years, including 1.1 billion in 2016, for the "Supporting Syria and the region" event.

Cameron pledged "at least an extra 1.2 billion pounds" (1.76 billion dollars) from Britain, saying "more money is needed to tackle this crisis and it is needed now."

"But the conference I am hosting today is about more than just money," Cameron said.

"Our new approach of using fundraising to build stability, create jobs and provide education can have a transformational effect in the region, and create a future model for humanitarian relief."

"And we can provide the sense of hope needed to stop people thinking they have no option but to risk their lives on a dangerous journey to Europe"

But aid agencies and human rights groups have different priorities from some of the hosts of the London meeting, warning that money alone will not address the range of problems facing millions of Syrians.

"Host countries in which refugees make up as much as a quarter of the population need vastly more donor assistance, but that money won't help Syrians who are being pushed back or driven to destitution by harsh policies," said Bill Frelick, refugee programme director at Human Rights Watch.

"This conference needs to set a new agenda on Syrian refugees, making respecting their fundamental rights the top priority," French said.

Co-host Norway pledged 2.4 billion kroner (288 million dollars) for this year.

"Norway has never given so much money to a humanitarian crisis of this kind before," said Borge Brende, Norway's foreign minister.

"The humanitarian needs are immense," Brende said.

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