Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Beeley in Bristol

By Clara Connolly

  • Lionised by the Morning Star newspaper, Assad apologist Vanessa Beeley denied hospital bombings in Aleppo and smeared White Helmets rescue volunteers.
  • Beeley addressed an ultra-Stalinist cult meeting in Bristol, ridiculing Syrian health workers.
  • When a Syria Solidarity UK member questioned Beeley on hospital bombings, he was put in a chokehold by meeting organisers and ejected.

On 17 February Vanessa Beeley, associate editor of 21st Century Wire and a frequent guest of the far right conspiracy blog InfoWars, gave an illustrated talk in Bristol, billed as a challenge to mainstream media reporting of Syria, particularly of the fall of Aleppo. Four members of Syria Solidarity UK—including myself—went along to join Bristol members who were leafleting the meeting outside.

The hosts were ‘Bristol Open Inquiry into the Bombing of Syria,’ a CPGB-ML front aiming to ‘end sanctions on Syria; stop arming terrorists.’ The CPGB–ML (Communist Party of Great Britain–Marxist Leninist) is an ultra-Stalinist cult, expelled from Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party, and from Stop the War Coalition, for openly supporting Assad and Ghaddafi.

The meeting was attended by 70-90 people, not necessarily CPGB–ML members or supporters. According to the people around me, many had been informed about the event by STWC. Beeley was introduced by Mehraz Shahabi, an open supporter of the Iranian regime, who passionately defended Syrian ‘sovereignty’ against imperialism.

Vanessa Beeley spoke for a full two and a half hours on her recent trips to Aleppo as a self-styled independent journalist. She presented video clips which she claimed were interviews with escapees from the ‘jihadist prison’ of East Aleppo, taken mainly around the Jebrin Registration Centre from 14 December onwards. She did not explain how she obtained access, nor who her interpreters were, nor why the interviews were conducted in public. They were vox-pop snippets on the street, with the interviewees praising the Syrian Arab Army for giving them food and denouncing jihadists for giving them none. There were no detailed or in depth interviews—they needed extensive commentary from Beeley to yield the sense she wanted. But to someone uninformed about Syria, or willing to view mainstream coverage of Aleppo as propaganda to support an imperialist project of regime change, they could be effective.

Monday, 6 February 2017

These drones could drop medical and food aid to thousands of besieged civilians in Syria. But Theresa May says ‘No.’

  • Theresa May told NGOs that drone airdrops of aid couldn’t be done.
  • Viable options for drone airdrops have been available for over a year.

In Rwanda, drones are right now being used for fast airdrop delivery of blood supplies. And in the UK, the APPG Friends of Syria has revealed that options for drone airdrops of food for Syria have been available for over a year. Yet as recently as December, Theresa May wrote to NGOs claiming that drone airdrops of aid were impractical.

Existing models of drones provide readily available means to bring aid to besieged civilians, and at no risk to UK personnel. MPs should now demand answers as to why the UK Government flatly refuses to even try using drones to save the lives of Syrian civilians under siege.

Rwanda’s new delivery system for blood products uses fixed wing drones that are launched from a catapult and follow a pre-programmed course to drop a small package from low altitude into an area the size of two parking spaces. These Zipline drones carry a light load (1.5kg of blood) but higher capacity and longer range drones suitable for airdrops in Syria were identified over a year ago.

Airbridge Aviation, an Oxford-based British company, conducted an extensive comparison of options in January 2016 and selected the Arcturus T-20 as the most capable unmanned aircraft for humanitarian airdrops in Syria. The T-20 is a well-established UAV first developed in 2009 and used by the Mexican Navy and the Turkish government. It has a maximum range of 900 kilometres, carries a payload of 36 kilograms and has a proven airdrop capability. Like the Zipline drone used in Rwanda, the T-20 also launches from a catapult and doesn’t need a runway.

Using nine T-20 drones flying twelve hours a day at 50 nautical miles range (about 90 kilometres, or the distance from the Jordanian border to the suburbs of Damascus) Airbridge Aviation write that they could deliver around 1,800kg of aid per day, feeding 1,675 people their full nutritional needs.

All of this can be done without putting UK air crews at risk.

We earlier reported on JPADS, another option for airdropping aid cross border into Syria without UK aircraft entering Syrian airspace. These are GPS-guided parachutes that can fly 25 kilometres from where they’re released to a pre-programmed precise landing spot. The World Food Programme confirmed to us that they had used JPADS about 25 times to drop medical aid to regime held Deir Ezzor. The WFP has never airdropped aid to communities besieged by Assad or Hezbollah because they refuse to act without regime consent.

It is shameful that the UK and other states militarily engaged in Syria have effectively stood by as Assad and his backers have besieged, starved, and forcefully displaced entire communities. It is shameful that the UK and others have not used the means available to relieve the suffering of civilians subjected to this deliberate cruelty.

Airdrops in themselves won’t end the sieges. They won’t stop Hezbollah and Assad forces shelling and bombing besieged communities. But they can bring an end to the Assad regime’s veto on humanitarian aid. They can give civilians some relief and save at least some lives. And they would show that the UK is willing to match fine words of concern with at least some concrete action.

Madaya, a short distance from the Lebanese border, is one of the many communities still under siege in Syria. It could easily be reached by JPADS or by drones.

It is now over a year since Jo Cox and others first called for the Government to seriously consider humanitarian airdrops to people trapped in Madaya. As images of starving children led to mounting public pressure, the Assad regime and its Hezbollah allies let some aid into the town, but only some.

Currently Madaya has been without aid deliveries for over two months, despite the promises of the ceasefire declared by Russia and Turkey in December, despite multiple UN security council resolutions, despite years of negotiations by UN agencies with the Assad regime.

Even when the Assad regime has let UN aid through, these convoys have been intermittent and subject to severe restrictions.

In the period covered by the latest Siege Watch report, one UN interagency aid convoy managed to reach Madaya and Zabadani on 25th September. The shipment included basic food supplies and non-essential medical items, but lacked necessary goods such as fuel, critical medical supplies, protein, baby milk, and salt. Mirna Yacoub, deputy representative for UNICEF in Syria, who was part of the aid convoy, told the BBC that while there wasn’t the level of starvation seen in January, ‘they are malnourished, there is a severe lack of vitamins, they don’t have protein.’

Siege Watch reported that 27 kidney failure patients were trapped in Madaya by the end of October, unable to receive dialysis due to lack of supplies. Highly contagious bacterial meningitis is also widespread and there are no infant vaccines available.

In November, at least four children died of malnutrition related causes. At the end of November, some aid was let in, but has since again been blocked by Hezbollah and the regime.

Airdrops of medical and food aid to Madaya and other besieged areas can save lives.

We know—Syrians know—that the UK has the ability to act, so let there be no more shameful excuses.

Videos: BBC report on Zipline drones delivering blood supplies in Rwanda, and Arcturus video showing their T-20 drone.

Monday, 30 January 2017

UK Syrian Community Protests Trump’s Muslim Ban

Rethink Rebuild Society

The UK Syrian community unequivocally condemns US President Trump’s recently announced executive order which places a ban on individuals from seven majority Muslim countries—including Syria—from travelling to the United States in what has been termed his Muslim ban. This ban also puts an indefinite halt to the US’s Syrian refugee resettlement programme.

This executive order is not only discriminatory, but it also alienates and stigmatises entire sections of the US and world populations at a time when it becomes more and more imperative that communities stand together in solidarity to address global threats including the Syrian refugee crisis and the threat of terrorism.

We fear that this executive order will have a reverse effect of fuelling hate and inciting terrorism in the UK and across the world, as we have already seen by the terrorist shooting at a Canadian mosque on 29 January which killed six worshippers and injured an additional eight. Such potential ramifications were stressed by US Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham who argued in a joint statement that Trump’s Muslim ban could ‘become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism.’

We are also concerned about the repercussions that Trump’s Muslim ban will have against Syrian refugees who fled the Syrian conflict under the worst imaginable conditions – arbitrary arrest, torture, constant bombardment, and relentless siege. This group deserves compassion and assistance from Western countries, not to mention that many have fled from the very terrorism which Trump has vowed to eradicate. We call upon the UK to echo the stand of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau by welcoming Syrian refugees banned by the US into the UK.

Amid this nightmare inflicted upon the Syrian and other communities in the UK and abroad, the British Syrian community is disheartened at the UK Government’s embarrassingly absent response. Although Trump’s executive order clearly clashes with purported British values of inclusion, diversity, and equality, Prime Minister Theresa May has yet to offer a formal condemnation of this discriminatory policy, and furthermore refused to call out Trump’s divisive rhetoric in her joint press conference with him on Friday. We therefore call upon the Government to offer a formal protest against Trump’s Muslim ban and to denounce it as discriminatory and counterproductive to the fight against terror. We furthermore endorse the petition asking the UK Government to rescind the official invitation for Trump to visit Her Majesty the Queen until his administration lifts this discriminatory policy.

Rethink Rebuild Society has established itself as a non-profit organisation that acts as an umbrella for the Syrian community in Manchester, and endeavours to clarify the Syrian cause to its audience in the UK and the wider public.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

A distress call from Wadi Barada civil society organisations

  • The communities of Wadi Barada have been under violent attack by Hezbollah and the Assad regime for over a month.
  • Lebanese Hezbollah terrorists are trying to force out the local Syrian population.
  • Wadi Barada’s civilians are in dire need of food and medicine.
  • Wadi Barada could be reached by JPADS airdrops using GPS guided parachutes without aircraft having to enter Syrian airspace.
  • The World Food Programme has used JPADS elsewhere in Syria but both the WFP and the UK refuse to help Wadi Barada.
  • Theresa May dismissed MPs’ calls for airdrops as impractical but didn’t say the WFP was already using JPADS elsewhere in Syria.

Read more: World Food Programme used JPADS for Deir Ezzor aid drops

We have received the following distress call from civil society organisations in Wadi Barada:

For the 33rd day running, Assad regime forces, Hezbollah, and other militias have been attacking Wadi Barada despite a proclaimed ceasefire in Syria, which was announced on 30th December 2016. The human and material cost has been terrible.

200 people have been killed as a result of the military attack, 60% of them women and children.

400 people have been injured. 150 of these are in need of urgent medical evacuation.

45,000 people have lost their homes following intense bombardment of residential areas by the regime and its allied militias.

All hospitals and medical centres are inoperational after they were directly attacked by the regime and its allies. Two medical staff have been killed and six injured as a result of these attacks.

The Civil Defence system is also out of service, after all its operational centres and equipment were destroyed because of deliberate targeting.

There is a great deal of destruction throughout the villages of Wadi Barada, particularly Basimah and Ain al-Fijeh.

80,000 people are suffering as a result of continuous bombardment and siege. Food supplies are now so meagre that people eat only one small meal a day. Sometimes this meal only consists of one apple. Families have been forced to slaughter whatever livestock they possess for food. There is now a severe shortage of children’s milk. The situation is getting worse because the regime and militia checkpoints which completely surround Wadi Barada have not allowed any food in for a month and not allowed medicine in for over four months. If the military assault continues and the regime and its allies continue with this policy, this could well lead to starvation.

 There is now an almost total lack of medicine, especially medicines to treat chronic conditions often suffered by older people, such as diabetes, heart disease, blood pressure, and blood disease. More than 20 people have died as a result of the lack of these medicines. The regime and its allies do not allow people to be evacuated from Wadi Barada for medical treatment.

Following the regime’s bombardment of the Ain el-Fijeh water plant, the water supply cannot be purified and is now polluted and people have contracted diseases from drinking impure water. Dozens of people now suffer from symptoms such as diarrhoea and vomiting.  As a result of the destruction of homes, people have taken shelter in mosques, halls, and other spaces, and this has led to overcrowding and this has exacerbated the situation, further spreading disease. Infants are especially at risk. Two new-borns have died as a result of the inability of medical staff to provide adequate care and jaundice has spread among infants due to trauma and fear.

Due to the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe, we declare the whole of Wadi Barada a disaster area and we call on all humanitarian organizations, human rights organizations, the UN Security Council, the UN General Assembly, and the international community to urgently intervene to save the civilians trapped in Wadi Barada, who are at the mercy of the rockets and mortars of the Assad regime and its allies and who are now facing the threat of disease and starvation.

Relief Corps in Wadi Barada • Medical in Wadi Barada • Media Corps in Wadi Barada • Local Council in Wadi Barada • Civil Defence in Wadi Barada • Institution of Barada Al Kheir • Institution of Ghouth Barada

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Confirmed: World Food Programme used JPADS for Deir Ezzor aid drops

  • These GPS guided parachutes can fly 25km to a precise landing point.
  • UK refuses to use JPADS airdrops system to aid civilians under attack from Hezbollah and Assad.

The World Food Programme’s representative for Syria, Jakob Kern, has confirmed that the agency has used FireFly JPADS for aid airdrops to Deir Ezzor. Around 25 JPADS parachutes have been used to drop mostly medical aid to the regime held town which is besieged by ISIS.

JPADS airdrops form just part of the WFP effort: overall the World Food Programme has made 177 air drops in nine months to Deir Ezzor. The World Food Programme has never made a single aid drop to any territory besieged by the Assad regime or its Iranian-backed ally Hezbollah. The vast majority of besieged areas are under siege from the regime.

The particular advantage with JPADS is that the system uses GPS navigation to remotely guide the parachute to a precise landing point. The drop can be made by planes at a standoff distance 25 kilometres away from the impact point, and at an altitude of 24,500 feet above sea level, high enough to be safe from MANPADS surface to air missiles. This means that JPADS could be used to drop aid to areas besieged by Hezbollah by planes flying outside Syrian airspace.

Last year, NGOs pressed for JPADS to be used to drop aid to besieged civilians in Aleppo City. The proposal was for aid to be dropped from RAF or NATO planes flying beyond regime controlled territory; the JPADS parachutes would then have flown under remote GPS guidance the final 25 kilometres to three designated landing points in Aleppo city.

In a December letter to NGOs, Prime Minister Theresa May contrived to ignore this fully viable safe option for helping civilians and for countering Hezbollah and Assad’s forced removal of populations.

The UK’s failure to deploy this available technology for the relief of besieged civilians helped speed their forced displacement from Aleppo city.

Assad and Hezbollah are now doing the same again in areas between Damascus and the Lebanon border, forcing out Sunni majority populations in order to replace them with people supportive of Hezbollah, Assad, and Iran. Western inaction on this is worsening the refugee crisis, and contributing to the entrenchment of Hezbollah—a proscribed terrorist organisation—across a wide portion of Syrian territory.

Theresa May’s refusal to act makes the UK complicit in Hezbollah’s campaign of ethnic cleansing in Syria.

Earlier: GPS guided parachutes are being used for arms drops in Syria – but the UK refuses to use them for aid drops.