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Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Syria Comes to Salisbury

By Clara Connolly

The recent nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil has caused outrage in Parliament, and has prompted speculation as to how the UK could retaliate. The attack has also caused widespread alarm in the town of Salisbury.

This incident has brought England a little closer to the horrors of Syria, where civilians suffer attacks from chemical weapons on a regular basis. If a narrowly targeted nerve agent attack on two people can cause such harm and alarm, imagine the effects on the population of Ghouta when 1,400 residents died of a Sarin attack in August 2013. That attack targeted the small neighbourhood of Zamalka  in Eastern Ghouta, and Moadamiya neighborhood in Western Ghouta which had a population similar in number to Salisbury.

Four years on the horror and pain of the Ghouta chemical massacre attacks have  not subsided for those who survived. Here is a description of its effects.

Sarin is as deadly a nerve agent as that used on Sergei Skripal and his daughter. It has been used several times by Assad on Syrian  civilians, most recently in April 2017.

It is not the only chemical weapon in use by Assad against ordinary people: he has also developed chlorine bombs. Chlorine gas was used by the German army in the First World War to kill 5,000 allied soldiers. Today it is the most common chemical weapon used against towns and villages in East Ghouta. Napalm and other incendiary weapons have also been used, with horrific consequences.

Assad and Putin believe they can act with impunity to inflict the most heinous war crimes on Syrian citizens. Last November, Russia twice vetoed the extension of the UN’s investigation into chemical weapons use in Syria.

As in Syria, Putin believes that he can act with impunity to kill his enemies in Britain. Indeed his ambassador gloats at their misfortune.

Hamish de Bretton–Gordon, a former commander of the British regiment that specialised in dealing with chemical weapons, said of the Salisbury incident that ‘this is symptomatic of the fact that chemical weapons have become the norm. We haven’t done anything about the use of chemical weapons in Syria and Iran. Now we’re paying the price.’

If the UK government is finally to take action to protect British citizens and residents against chemical attack, I  hope that they will spare a thought also for Syrian civilians, who have endured immeasurably worse. In responding to Putin over the Salisbury attack, we must also end Putin and Assad’s impunity in Syria.

Image: Coverage of the attack in the Salisbury Journal.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Don’t trade with Sukhoi – Don’t fly CityJet

At the CityJet check-in desk, London City Airport. Photo: Steve Eason

“Don’t fly CityJet” is the call by Syria solidarity activists in the UK and Ireland today.

Dublin-based airline CityJet is Europe’s leading purchaser of passenger aircraft from Russian state company Sukhoi which also supplies war planes used by Putin and Assad to attack civilians in Syria.

This morning protesters went to London City Airport (above) and Dublin Airport (right) to protest CityJet’s trade with Putin and Assad’s arms supplier.

At the CityJet desk in London City Airport, activists made a “civilian protection announcement” chanting “Sukhoi jets are killer jets” and do not fly killer jets, do not fly CityJet.”

Syria solidarity activists in the UK and the Republic of Ireland issued the following joint statement:

Don’t trade with Sukhoi – Don’t fly CityJet
PDF version

  • CityJet is a leading customer of Russian state-owned arms manufacturer Sukhoi.
  • Sukhoi aircraft have been used to kill thousands of innocent civilians in Syria.
  • Today activists in London and Dublin say: Don’t fly killer jets – don’t fly CityJet.

Sukhoi fighter planes supplied by Russia have been used by the Assad regime to target civilians since 2012. The Russian Air Force has targeted and killed Syrian civilians with its fleet of Sukhoi war planes since directly intervening in September 2015.

In 2016, the Russian Air Force in concert with the Syrian Air Force used Sukhoi jets to deliberately bomb a UN aid convoy in Aleppo. Russian Air Force Sukhoi jets have repeatedly targeted schools and hospitals.

These attacks are crimes against humanity, breaking multiple UN Security Council resolutions and violating international humanitarian law.

This has not stopped CityJet from doing business with Sukhoi. CityJet was the first European airline to purchase Sukhoi’s SuperJet and in 2017 it placed a billion dollar order for Sukhoi aircraft. Sukhoi considers CityJet a valued customer and hopes that CityJet’s operation of Sukhoi aircraft, both under CityJet’s own name and under the names of other carriers on “wet-lease” contracts will boost Sukhoi’s sales.

CityJet’s willingness to trade with the same state company supplying the planes killing innocent people in Syria is sending Putin and his government a message that whatever the crimes they commit, it will be business as usual with Europe.

Now in Eastern Ghouta an ongoing aerial campaign has killed hundreds of men, women, and children and destroyed homes and hospitals despite yet another Security Council resolution demanding a ceasefire. Russia is flouting both this UN resolution and the most basic conventions against the targeting of civilians.

Sukhoi Su-22 and Su-24 jets have been photographed dropping bombs in Ghouta over the past few days. In the first six months of the Russian intervention in Syria, Sukhoi Su-25 jets dropped 6,000 bombs on Syria. Russia has been using Syria as a testing ground for new Su-57 stealth fighters.

Sukhoi, which is today part of the United Aircraft Corporation, a company in which the Russian state holds the majority of shares, is an integral part of the Russian machine of murder in Syria.

Syria Solidarity UK and the Irish Syria Solidarity Movement today calls on CityJet to stop trading with Sukhoi, a company which exports death to Syria.

We call on the governments of the United Kingdom, of the Republic of Ireland, and of other EU states, to tighten sanctions on Russia and prohibit trade with Sukhoi, United Aircraft Corporation, and others manufacturing weapons to kill civilians.

We call for an immediate ceasefire in Ghouta and effective action to protect the civilians there and in the rest of Syria.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Reports of chemical weapons used in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta

Statement by Rethink Rebuild Society and the Syrian British Medical Society

Rethink Rebuild Society and the Syrian British Medical Society express their outrage at the suspected use of chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta yesterday, and calls for immediate investigations into their alleged use.

A press release by the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations reported yesterday March 7th a chlorine attack that hit the towns of Saqba and Hammourieh in Eastern Ghouta around 9.00pm Damascus time which affected more than 50 people. Dr. Imad Kabbani, manager of the Damascus and Rural Damascus’ Directorate of Health, dismissed an alleged chemical attack earlier this week but confirmed yesterday’s chlorine attack. The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) reported treating 29 patients with symptoms of a chlorine attack yesterday in one of their facilities.

More than 85 people have been killed yesterday in what was one the most devastating nights Eastern Ghouta had endured over the past years, with Syrian regime attacks reported to have used napalm and cluster bombs in addition to chemical weapons. As a result of the severe bombardment, an aid convoy originally planned to enter Eastern Ghouta today has been postponed.

According to SAMS, yesterday’s chlorine attack was the fifth chemical weapon attack in Eastern Ghouta and the eighth in Syria this year only. Moreover, a report released yesterday by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria confirmed the documentation of the regime’s use of chemical weapons during its fighting with rebel groups in Harasta in November of last year.

Rethink Rebuild Society and the Syrian British Medical Society demand an immediate investigation by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons towards determining the validity of these attacks. While world powers continue to reiterate their commitment to preventing the use of chemical weapons, such as the latest “International Partnership Against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons” initiative, such attacks are believed to have continued. Use of such weapons are a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention to which Syria is a signee, and perpetrators must be held accountable. We urge the enforcement of UN resolution 2401 that called for a 30-day ceasefire, the entry of direly needed humanitarian relief and the evacuation of medical cases to end the indescribable suffering of civilians in the enclave.

International Women’s Day under siege, chlorine and napalm

Art by Reem Yassouf.

A message from Women Now For Development
Via Facebook

Today on International Women’s Day, we usually celebrate women’s achievements, highlight their successes and shine a light on their empowerment. But today is not a normal day. It has been 17 days since our team, consisting of over 60 women, along with all civilians in Eastern Ghouta have been forced underground. They are living in damp, dark and ill-equipped bunkers that have no kitchens or bathrooms. They are also unable to eat, as there is no food reaching the area.

Last night was the worst night since the assault on Ghouta began. Our team is reporting that it was “a catastrophic night under chlorine gas and cluster bombs”. Adding to this, the recent aid convoy had been stripped of 70% of its medical aid supplies and was also unable to finish its distribution. This is one of the most dire developments of the humanitarian situation in Eastern Ghouta.

Under these circumstances, women are calling for an immediate end to the bloodshed, for the weapons to fall silent, aid to be allowed to enter the area and the siege to be lifted. Above all, the protection of civilians in accordance with international humanitarian law must be guaranteed.

On this day on which we celebrate women’s achievements, we should not forget those who have been forced into darkness. And even from these dark cellars and bunkers, messages reach us daily, updating us about the situation, and showing women’ strength and leadership. We have been publishing the stories and providing a platform for these women to share their fears, thoughts and hopes.

The situation all over the country is dramatic and civilians are under threat in many areas. Desperate pleas reach us from women all over the country, fearing for their lives and their families’ futures. We stand in solidarity with all civilians in Syria.

On this day, please take action and raise awareness about the situation in Eastern Ghouta and the rest of Syria. We can no longer afford to be silent in the face of such atrocities!

There are three actions you can take:

  1. Follow and share women’s stories and stay updated on Ghouta on our Facebook and Twitter
  2. Send us your messages of support on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram which we can share with our colleagues and other women in Ghouta
  3. Donate to support Syrian women and girls in Syria and help us continue our work.

Women Now For Development – women-now.org

Monday, 5 March 2018

Atrocities in Syria and the United Nations

Dead children in shrouds made of UNHCR plastic sheeting, Eastern Ghouta 4 March 2018. Via Akram Abo Alfoz.

Hundreds of MPs made a dreadful error in August 2013 when they blocked action to respond to Assad’s mass murder of innocents.

Today we don’t need guilt or shame from those MPs. We need honesty, intelligence, bravery, and determination to act NOW.

What has changed since 2013? Numbers killed and injured rose by hundreds of thousands. Numbers of refugees rose by millions.

And since that vote in 2013, the Security Council has passed a series of resolutions that have all been flouted.

Resolution 2118 demanding the destruction of chemical weapons, passed in September 2013 has been repeatedly broken, most notoriously by the April 2016 attack on Khan Sheikhoun.

Resolution 2139 demanding an end to barrel bombs and sieges has been broken every single day since it was passed in February 2014.

Further resolutions have been passed and ignored, resolutions repeating demands to protect civilians, to grant humanitarian access, to release detainees from Assad’s torture prisons.

Now UN Security Council Resolution 2401 demanding a 30 day cessation of hostilities across all of Syria has been met with utmost violence and contempt by the Assad regime and its allies, including by Putin’s government.

In 2013, MPs called for working through the UN. With more than four years of broken resolutions, it should now be put to Parliament that the UK should enforce these UN resolutions and uphold international law. UN resolutions from UNSCR 2139 on have demanded:
  • an end to indiscriminate shelling and aerial bombardment;
  • rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access;
  • that all parties respect the principle of medical neutrality;
  • that all parties take all appropriate steps to protect civilians.
It has been argued that since the invasion of Iraq, the UK has turned against military intervention. But the UK has been militarily engaged in Syria since 2015. What the UK has not yet done in Syria is protect civilians.

The UK Government has a duty to act, to defend international law and enforce the declared will of the UN Security Council, and to take all appropriate steps to protect civilians by acting to end the slaughter.

We now need Parliament to affirm that the UK Government has a mandate to uphold UN Security Council Resolution 2139 and subsequent resolutions and to enforce the declared will of the UN Security Council in Syria.

We need Parliament to affirm that actively protecting civilians must be the primary goal of UK forces engaged in Syria.

If we don’t act now, the Syrian war will end with the United Nations itself in the grave.

Dr Batool Abdulkareem, SyriaUK
Dr Amer Masri, Scotland4Syria
Dr Fadel Moghrabi, Peace and Justice for Syria
Dr Haytham Alhamwi, Rethink Rebuild Society
Dr Mohammad Tammo, Kurds House