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Wednesday, 13 November 2019

The quiet soldier



By Clara Connolly

Syria Solidarity UK is devastated to hear of the death this week, at his home in Istanbul, of James Le Mesurier.

Whatever the circumstances, which are not yet clear, it cannot be seen as a coincidence in the week of his death that he has been attacked by the Russian Foreign Ministry, libelled as a supporter of jihadists; and that the Russian bombing of hospitals in Idlib has resumed.

For James le Mesurier, and his organisation Mayday Rescue, have been centrally involved in the training of the Syrian Civil Defence—more commonly known as the White Helmets—a volunteer group of first responders in Syria’s opposition areas, who also serve as vital sources of information about Russian and other atrocities in the Syrian conflict.

James Le Mesurier was a British soldier whose experience in Bosnia first led him to consider humanitarian work. He left the army and worked in the UN and then in private security companies for a time, but was dissatisfied with the effectiveness of either for the protection of civilians in conflict.

So in 2013, seeing Syrian civilians struggling to respond to relentless air attacks by the Assad regime, he launched the first training course for twenty-five Syrian volunteer first defenders, with the help of Turkish disaster response teams.

Since then, he was until his death intensively involved in training successive White Helmet teams. Their autonomy as Syrians remained essential to him: he has remained a trainer and provider of equipment rather than an organiser. He and they believed that their freedom from interference by outside political actors has remained essential to their integrity.

Le Mesurier is one of a number of remarkable British men and women whose individual initiatives have placed the protection of civilians at the heart of their work for Syria. I’ll mention two others: the surgeon David Nott who has trained Syrian doctors in the war zone; and Jo Cox, the MP who spoke often and eloquently in Parliament for the protection of Syrians.

The outstanding work of such individuals has been in stark contrast with British and other governments who have never placed first priority on the protection of civilians. They have remained unmoved by the pleas of the White Helmets and others (most recently Kurdish civilians) for a No-Fly Zone, and have been (to put it mildly) careless about civilian casualties in the Coalition war against ISIS.

At this sad time for his family and for his colleagues, we salute the quiet heroism and dedication of James le Mesurier, and we condemn the inaction of Britain and the world in the face of the continued suffering of Syrian civilians.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

WANTED for targeting hospitals



Putin and Assad’s forces are bombing hospitals—again.

In a single day this week, Wednesday 6 November 2019, two hospitals were targeted in Idlib province, Syria.

Al Ikhlas Maternity Hospital near Shnan village in southern Idlib province was bombed by Russian planes, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights. Two medics were injured. The building and equipment were severely damaged. Here’s a video.

The Kafranbel Surgical Hospital was bombed again. This hospital—run by a UK charity—has already been bombed several times this year.

It was bombed on 5 May by a Russian pilot who released four bombs on the hospital at five minute intervals. His radio communications were intercepted and analysed for a New York Times investigation.

It was bombed again on 4 July. First by military helicopters shortly before 3pm local time. Then again about fifty minutes later by air launched missiles.

Kafranbel Surgical Hospital was on the UN’s deconfliction list. This means that the hospital team, trying to protect the hospital, had given the coordinates of the hospital to the UN for them to share with military powers intervening in Syria, including Russia.

Of course medics in Syria already knew Putin’s forces were targeting hospitals, just as Putin’s ally Assad has targeted medics since the early demonstrations of 2011 were met with deadly force, and doctors and nurses went to try and help Assad’s victims.

The hope was that by establishing the fact via the UN that these were hospitals and therefore protected in law, that Putin and Assad might be dissuaded from attacking. That hasn’t worked.

But having shared coordinates with Russia means that there is now no doubt about the criminality of the two leaders, Putin and Assad, and no doubt about the criminality of the military officers with command responsibility for these attacks.

Assad’s top officers, Assad’s ministers, are all sanctioned by the UK, sanctioned by the EU. But no Russian individuals are sanctioned for crimes in Syria. It’s time for that to change.

In the current election, voters are hearing scary things about Russian government influence in UK politics. So will British politicians be willing take a stand on Russian crimes in Syria?

The following Russian officers and leaders should be sanctioned. Criminal cases should be prepared should the opportunity arise to prosecute them.



Lieutenant-General Alexander Chayko, Head of Russian group of forces in Syria.



Colonel-General Andrey Serdyukov, Head of Russian group of forces in Syria up to September 2019.



Lieutenant-General Andrey Yudin, Chief of the Air Force.



Colonel-General Sergei Surovikin, Commander in Chief of the Russian VKS.



Sergey Shoigu, Russia’s Defence Minister.



Vladimir Putin, President of Russia.

Read more about Russia’s chain of command targeting hospitals.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

UK and US keep secret the information that could save lives in Syria

After the Putin-Erdogan deal over northeastern Syria, there are growing fears of an undisclosed side-deal between the Turkish and Russian leaders trading part of Idlib to the Assad regime in exchange for Russian cooperation with Turkey along the northern border.

Reinforcing these fears, at the same time as Putin and Erdogan met in Sochi, Assad appeared for cameras with regime forces in southern Idlib, supervising artillery fire against the opposition held area. Russian air attacks have also escalated in recent days.

If the worst comes to pass and we see a full renewal of Putin and Assad’s campaign of eradication against people in Idlib, their aircraft will be watched in silence at every step by American and British military officers.

Back in 2015, Syria Civil Defence called on the US to share radar data to help give early warning to civilians of Assad’s air attacks. The US refused.

Since the UK joined the air war in Syria, we have been calling on them to publish tracking information to help identify parties responsible for the targeting of hospitals, aid workers, and markets, and to hold them accountable. The UK refuses.

In response to these calls, the UK Government has tried to obscure its capacity to track Syrian and Russian aircraft. The truth is that the UK has for years been part of the Coalition operation to track these aircraft for deconfliction.



This is a US Air Force photo of the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. See the original here.

Note the display at (A) showing aircraft flights over Syria. Journalist Michael R Gordon described his visit to Al Udeid Air Base in an article for The New York Times, 23 May 2017:
“The challenge in operating in Syria’s crowded airspace is clear from a glance at a large video screen inside the center that tracks aircraft across the region. Russian and Syrian planes are marked with yellow and orange icons; American and allied planes are delineated in green while civilian aircraft are blue.”

Note the British presence at (B) — including a picture of the Queen. Air Vice-Marshal Stringer, in oral evidence to the Commons Defence Select Committee on 15 May 2018, talking of the importance of the UK contribution to the Coalition effort, singled out the RAF contribution of “E-3 aircraft to support our awareness of what was going on in the air environment, and to aid deconfliction, as well as the flow of sorties.”

A fuller picture of how the system works was given in the most recent issue of Syria Notes:
According to Justin Bronk, Research Fellow, Airpower and Technology at the Royal United Services Institute, NATO AWACS aircraft and other Coalition aircraft “will track and share the locations of Russian and Syrian aircraft from the time that they take off to the time they land.”

NATO’s AWACS inventory includes Royal Air Force E-3Ds, US Air Force E-3Gs, French Air Force E-3Fs and the NATO pooled E-3A fleet. These are the cornerstone of the Coalition’s airspace surveillance and management over Syria, including deconfliction with Russian and Syrian aircraft, Justin Bronk explained to Syria Notes.

Coalition aircraft typically broad­cast a radio transponder signal which can be picked up by any radar controller, including by those in Damascus, and by the E-3 AWACS. Also, Coalition aircraft will be on Link 16, an airborne datalink network which allows all aircraft on the link—from fighters, tankers, surveillance aircraft to AWACS themselves—to share sensor data to build collective situational awareness. This means that all Coalition aircraft are typically well aware of allied aircraft and what those can see, with the AWACS fleets providing overall coordination as well as contributing a lot of situational awareness from their on-board wide-area surveillance radar.

For deconfliction and tracking of Russian and Syrian aircraft, which typically do not broadcast a transponder signal, more traditional tracking and radio communications are used. AWACS and fighter assets where available will track and share the locations of Russian and Syrian aircraft from the time they take off to the time they land. If there is a need to deconflict for flight safety, the AWACS crew will typically contact these aircraft via the internationally recognised ‘guard’ frequency—243.0 MHz for military operations—to advise or warn them.

To positively identify these non-transponder broadcasting aircraft, many Coalition assets such as AWACS aircraft and the US Air Force’s F-15 and F-22 fighters can use techniques such as Non-Cooperative Threat Recognition (NTCR) which involves using onboard radar to focus on and classify unknown aircraft by identifying distinctive features like engine fan blade size and engine spacing.

So when Putin and Assad return to bombing schools, hospitals, bakeries and markets, know that the UK and US militaries watch every move, but do nothing to warn the victims, nothing to publish evidence of who is responsible, and nothing to stop the slaughter continuing.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Stop forced deportations from Turkey to Syria



Cross-posted from The Syria Campaign.

Arabic version.

Turkish version.

Dear Commissioner Hahn, High Representative Mogherini and High Commissioner Filippo Grandi,

We, the undersigned Syrian and international human rights organizations, are writing to ask you to urge the Turkish authorities not to deport Syrian refugees from Istanbul and other cities to Syria, where they face a real risk of detention, torture, and death.

On 20 August the Istanbul governor's office announced that Syrian refugees in Istanbul who are registered under the country's temporary protection policy in other provinces must return there by 30 October. Turkey's Interior Ministry has also said that unregistered Syrians found in Istanbul will be sent to other as yet unspecified provinces in Turkey. Since late 2017, Istanbul and nine other provinces have stopped registering newly arriving Syrian asylum seekers, forcing many to live in Turkey without a temporary protection permit.

In addition, in recent months, xenophobic sentiment towards Syrian refugees in Turkey has escalated , fueled in part by hostile rhetoric from politicians across the political spectrum who have promised voters to send refugees home.

Since mid-July, activists and human rights organizations have documented many cases in which the authorities have arrested and detained registered Syrian refugees outside their registered province. The arrests have included those traveling from other parts of Turkey to their registered provinces, as well as unregistered Syrians. The authorities have coerced Syrians into signing “voluntary return” documents before deporting them to Syria.

In July and August, 6,160 and 8,901 Syrians — both registered and unregistered — were deported to Syria from Turkey through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, according to the Syrian immigration authorities' website. This is a significant increase compared to previous months and coincides with the July policy change. These figures may also include Syrians intercepted and deported shortly after they crossed into Turkey, a practice that has been going on for a number of years.

Reports from media and activists in touch with our organizations confirm that the Turkish police have beaten detainees, denied them medical care and, in some cases, sent them to Idlib and northern Aleppo, where more than 1,180 civilians have been killed since February 2019, according to the local monitoring organization, the Response Coordination Group.

By deporting refugees and asylum seekers to a war zone or to areas where there is a real risk of persecution, Turkish authorities are in violation of their obligations under international law, and specifically the prohibition on refoulement. The Syrians being sent back not only face being caught up in the offensive in Idlib governorate but are at risk of arrest and torture at the hands of the Syrian government or armed groups.

Syrians we have spoken to describe how afraid they are now in Turkey. They stay at home to avoid arrest, including once they have returned to the cities where they were registered.

In August, the EU announced a further € 127 million to boost its Emergency Social Safety Net program for refugees in Turkey. In total, the EU has pledged € 6 billion in refugee funding to Turkey, while the UNHCR continues to support Syrian refugees in the country.

However, neither the European Commission, EU member states, nor UNHCR have spoken publicly about these deportations, despite the clear risk that large numbers of Syrians in Turkey's cities now face. They should press the Turkish authorities to stop all forced return of Syrians, including an end to coercing Syrians into signing voluntary repatriation forms, and to give those already deported to Syria the option to return to Turkey.

Member states, the European Commission and UNHCR should also commit to increasing their presence in Turkey's removal centers to ensure that Syrians are not coerced into signing voluntary repatriation forms.

If needed, they should support Turkish authorities to register unregistered Syrians and ensure ongoing financial support to Turkey to better protect Syrian refugees.

We also urge EU member states to resettle significant numbers of Syrian refugees from Turkey.

Sincerely,

11.11.11
Adopt a Revolution
Cairo Institute for Human Rights
Dawlaty
Human Rights Watch
Irish Syria Solidarity Movement
PAX
PÊL- Civil Waves Bell - 
URNAMMU
Syrian British Council
Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression
Syrians for Truth and Justice And Justice
Syrian Network for Human Rights
Syria Solidarity UK
The Syria Campaign
Women Now for Development

Thursday, 3 October 2019

The Syrian Apple: Art by Amany Al-Ali in Lancaster, October 18-29



Rethink Rebuild Society and the Children’s War Museum are presenting an exhibition of art work from Idlib at The Storey gallery in Lancaster from October 18th to October 29th.

The Syrian Apple features art by Amany Al-Ali from Idlib, Syria. Her work reflects the feelings and experiences many Syrians of the journey and the fate of what was once their green revolution.

‘I made sure that I depicted the green apple as complete, healthy and beautiful in all the drawings in order to emphasise that the Syrian Revolution is still strong, alive and beautiful,’ explained Amany. ‘For me, the Syrian Revolution is an idea, and ideas do not die. Ideas cannot be killed or extinguished. An idea may test the patience of those who carry it; it might transform them or make them into heroes as they die for it.’

The exhibition also includes photography by Young Lens, Humans of Syria, and photojournalist Antonio Olmos. Young Lens are a group of young activists who have been recording their experience of the Syrian revolution since 2011. Humans of Syria are creating profiles of some of the thousands of children who have been displaced within Syria. Antonio Olmos documented the Syrian refugee journey across Europe in 2015.

The launch event is at 6.30 pm on Friday October 18th at the lecture theatre, and will include a film of interviews with some of the Syrian refugees who have come to the UK.

Pictured: Illustration by Amany Al-Ali from the latest issue of Syria Notes.