Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The broken chemical weapons deal

The chemical attack by Assad on Khan Sheikhun was the deadliest since 2013. But it was only the most recent of many attacks breaking the 2013 chemical weapons deal.

Here in the UK, politicians on all sides must now face the cost of Parliament’s failure to hold Assad to account in 2013.

The UK Government needs to face the consequences not just of failure in 2013, but of failure throughout six full years to protect civilians in Syria: failure to ground Assad’s air force, failure to airdrop aid to besieged civilians, failure to protect civilians as they fled Syria, failure to take in some of the youngest and most vulnerable of Assad’s victims.

If Russia continues to shield Assad at the UN, other permanent members of the Security Council including the UK must now join the US in taking measures to end impunity.

The UK must show leadership to ensure that the international response centres on civilian protection. The 2013 chemical weapons deal failed to protect civilians because it only focused on one class of weapon, not on ending violence.

In December 2013 after the chemical weapons deal, Assad escalated the regime’s barrel bombing of civilians. Syrians worry that Assad will now once more escalate against besieged civilians with artillery and conventional air attacks.

All Assad regime attacks on civilians need to be stopped.

The Khan Sheikhun attack came in the same week that the EU hosted its Brussels conference on Syria. Assad and his allies have shown their contempt for EU efforts.

Despite the scale of crimes committed by the Assad regime, by Russia, and by Iran, the EU has not imposed a single sanction against Russia for its actions in Syria, and the EU is selling aircraft to Iran which uses civilian airliners to resupply the regime with fighters and arms.

Diplomacy without pressure has failed. The UK and its allies now need to increase both economic and military pressure against Assad and his allies.

Please support our petition: Protect Civilians—We need a fresh start for Syria.

UK policy on Syria needs a fresh start. Read our proposals in more detail here.

Statement by the National Liberal Club in response to protests over the London event with Assad regime ministers


The National Liberal Club deeply regrets having provided the venue for a conference on 5, 6 April in which spokespeople for the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad were given a platform to speak – even as the world was reacting to news of the horrific gas attack on the people of Idlib Province. Had we known then what we know now, we certainly would not have accepted the booking. We did not, nor would we ever, knowingly allow our premises to be exploited by war criminals or people connected to genocide or crimes against humanity.

The booking was made in the normal way back in January (contrary to reports that it had been hurriedly transferred from another venue), as a privately-organised function (not an official club event, as has also been suggested), on behalf of a seemingly reputable organisation, the European Centre for the Study of Extremism, which featured such notable figures as Lord Kinnock, Lord Williams of Oystermouth and Lord Desai on its list of patrons. The NLC member who sponsored the event is not a member of ECSE, but agreed to act as sponsor as a personal favour to a friend.

When news of the gas attack broke, and we became aware of protests both on the street and on social media, we contacted the organisers to ask for further details of the conference. We were told that although two Assad government spokesmen had indeed spoken by video link, the Syrian opposition had also been represented, and three platform speakers had referred to Assad as a “war criminal”. We were assured that many different views were represented, including academics, international journalists and leaders of faith groups. We had no objective reason to break the terms of our agreement with the conference organisers, but continued to investigate.

We have since learned that some patrons of ECSE have resigned. And we have not received any answers to further questions we put to the organisers more than a week ago. Although the National Liberal Club continues to believe in tolerance and the free exchange of ideas, we cannot envisage a situation in which we will allow the ECSE to use our premises again. We will also be reviewing our vetting processes.

We do not believe that we should make any money from this event. Instead, we will be donating all revenue from the event to Syrian refugee charities in the UK.

Above all, we understand the distress that this event has caused, especially to the families and loved ones of those who have suffered at the hands of the Assad regime in Syria, and we apologise unreservedly to them.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Asma Assad’s passport is a distraction: We need a new plan to protect civilians in Syria

Several papers reported over the weekend on calls to strip Asma Assad of her UK citizenship. Will Worley of The i Newspaper asked Syria Solidarity UK for a response:
‘Stripping Asma Assad’s passport is a distraction,’ a spokesperson for the group said. ‘What we need from UK political leaders is support for action to protect civilians. That means publishing radar data on all regime and Russian bombings, just the US did for the most recent chemical attack. It means drone airdrops of aid. It means stopping all Assad’s bombing, not just chemical attacks.

‘UK politicians need to show some seriousness.’

Syria Solidarity UK is calling on the UK Government to bring forward a new plan to protect civilians in Syria and create an opportunity for peace.

UK policy on Syria needs a fresh start. You can read our proposals in more detail here.

Please support our petition: Protect Civilians—We need a fresh start for Syria.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Syria Relief maternity hospital attacked by airstrikes

Syria Relief press release

PDF version.

Today, Monday 17th April, 2017, at 13:05 Syria local time (12:05 GMT), our Children and Maternity Hospital in Jabal Alzawieh in Idleb Countryside was targeted by three airstrikes. The high explosive rockets fell near the Hospital’s perimeter fence, causing extensive damage, but thankfully, no fatalities or serious injuries to Staff, patients or their families. Several Colleagues, including a Gynaecologist and an Anaesthetist performing a C-section, suffered minor injuries from shattered glass and falling debris.

However, there has been extensive material damage to various Hospital Departments, including operating theatres and lab facilities. A patient’s car was totally destroyed.

This is an initial report. A full, detailed report will follow, once a comprehensive damage assessment has been carried out.

The Hospital remains out of service, to allow our teams to carry out essential maintenance, and to ensure the safety of our Staff and patients.

On behalf of the people of Syria, we call upon the international community, and all relevant international bodies and organizations, to use all means necessary and exert pressure on all parties in the conflict to stop the ongoing atrocities, and to condemn these flagrant acts of total disregard of international laws and conventions.

Syria Relief is a UK-based charity founded in September 2011. Syria Relief is a non-political, non-denominational, non-governmental organisation. It was set up in response to the crisis that engulfed Syria in March that year, to provide support for Syrian families in need. Syria Relief’s programmes on the ground provide food, shelter, water and sanitation, medical care and education to displaced and destitute civilians inside Syria.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Something is very wrong in the Coalition air war against ISIS

Throughout 2016, more Russian air attacks killed civilians in Syria than Coalition air attacks did in all Syria and Iraq.

This year, that has changed.

In January, February, and March, in Syria and Iraq, more Coalition air attacks killed civilians than Russian attacks did.

In Syria alone, Coalition forces killed at least 260 civilians in March, compared to 224 civilians killed by Russia, according to the Syrian Network For Human Rights, (SNHR).

SNHR reports that in March the Coalition was responsible for more massacres in Syria than any other party. SNHR defines a massacre as an incident involving the killing of at least five peaceful individuals at the same time.

At least 50 civilians were reported killed in a 22 March Coalition airstrike on al Badiya school west of Raqqa. The school was used as a shelter for people fleeing the fighting.

Syrian organisations in the UK have called for an urgent investigation, and for a review of Coalition policy on civilian protection.

UK failure to protect civilians adds to the human misery in Syria, undermines the UK’s moral authority, and undermines the UK’s strategic aims of fighting extremism and resolving the refugee crisis.

The UK is a senior partner in the Coalition. A British officer serves as Coalition deputy commander. The UK is co-responsible for Coalition actions.

We are all responsible for the consequences.

Please add your name to our petition for a fresh start on Syria: Call on the UK Government for a new plan to protect civilians.