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Saturday, 26 December 2015

Further Escalation of Deliberate Attacks on Medical Facilities

Syrian British Medical Society Press Release, 25th December 2015.

In an extremely worrying escalation of their incessant bombing campaign, Russian war planes have this morning struck a number of medical facilities, in a series of deliberate attacks.

From around 09:00am on 25th December 2015, squadrons of Russian war planes carried out a devastating attack on the Central Specialist Hospital in the City of Azzaz, causing extensive damage to several parts of the hospital, and to the surrounding areas.





Russian war planes then carried out another devastating attack on the Maternity and Paediatric Hospital in the same City, also putting the Hospital out of service, and inflicting catastrophic damage to most of its structures.



In addition, Baghdad Hospital in the town of Hreitan was also attacked by Russian war plane, resulting in severe damage to the structure of the hospital, and the death of a member of staff.

These attacks have left hundreds of thousands of civilians deprived of essential medical care, and once again, highlighted the extremely dangerous conditions that medical staff in Syria have to work under on a daily basis. Over 658 healthcare workers have been killed in the past four years, in addition to a substantial number of Syrian doctors, dentists, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals have been subjected to harassment, intimidation, detention, torture, in complete contravention of international accords and conventions, for no crime other than providing medical care to the injured.

We take this opportunity to respectfully urge Her Majesty’s Government, the international community, and the international medical relief organizations, to condemn in the strongest possible terms the deliberate targeting of medical facilities by the Russian air strikes, and the ongoing harassment, intimidation, detention, torture, and murder by the Syrian Regime, of medical teams working on the ground to help the injured.

The Syrian British Medical Society
25th December 2015

Editors’ Notes: The Syrian British Medical Society was established in 2007, as a forum for healthcare professionals of Syrian descent working in the UK. It is a non-profit, non-political organization that aims at promoting the highest professional and ethical standards amongst British-Syrian Healthcare Professionals, and the creation and promotion of academic and professional links with the Healthcare Profession in Syria and related organizations worldwide. Since the start of the uprising in Syria in 2011, the SBMS has redirected most of its activities towards helping the devastated healthcare sector in Syria.

SBMS Website.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Putin’s and Assad’s peace moves: bombings of civilians and chemical weapons attacks

On Friday, the UK and allies US and France joined Russia in passing a UN Security Council resolution supporting the Vienna process to bring peace to Syria.

On Sunday, Russia bombed civilian areas in anti-ISIS rebel held territory, killing scores of civilians.

Yesterday, Assad regime forces carried out another chemical weapons attack against civilians in the Damascus suburb of Moadamiyeh.

For years the UK government has followed Obama’s lead in making excuses for not taking effective action to protect civilians. In March they joined Obama’s flawed train-and-equip program that attempted to build a Syrian rebel force to take on ISIS while ignoring the much greater threat to Syrians, the Assad regime. In November, government minister Tobias Ellwood told MPs and peers that a ceasefire was in Russia’s interest. Earlier this month, government minister Philip Hammond dismissed calls for a no-bombing zone by falsely claiming that such a measure would require troops on the ground.

It is long past time for government ministers to recognise the brutal fact that Putin does not face the same constraints or understanding of self interest as democratic politicians do, and that diplomacy alone will not stop Assad’s killing in Syria.

It is also long overdue for British MPs to face up to the consequences of not acting to constrain Assad. The vote against action on Assad’s chemical massacre in 2013 was a disaster for Syrians and for global security, and the current airstrikes against ISIS do nothing to undo the damage of that decision.

Below are videos we have received from yesterday’s chemical weapons attack on Moadamiyeh.









#فيديو يوثق لحظة وصول المصابين جراء استهداف الحي الغربي من #المعضمية بغاز السارين #مستشفى_الغوطة_التخصصي#معضمية_الشام ٢٢/١٢/٢٠١٥
Posted by ‎مستشفى الغوطة التخصصي‎ on Tuesday, December 22, 2015


See also Amnesty’s report today, Syria: Russia’s shameful failure to acknowledge civilian killings.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Syrians Condemn Russian Massacre in Idlib



PDF version here.

British Syrian groups across the UK strongly condemn Russia’s most recent attacks on Idlib in northern Syria on 20 December 2015, which led to the killing of over 47 civilians in the course of just a few hours. More than 8 rockets alone hit the main courthouse in the city causing enormous levels of devastation.

The attack on Idlib is not only a breach of UN Security Council Resolution 2139 but also of a recent local truce between oppositionists and the Assad regime, whereby Idlib would not be bombed.

The direct Russian intervention in Syria which began in September 2015 was justified through the need to get rid of ISIL. However, as numerous reports have shown, Russian forces are targeting civilian areas under the control of moderate opposition groups, while leaving ISIL-controlled areas largely intact. Evidence suggests that Russian involvement is helping, rather than impeding, ISIL advances.

Russia’s actions are especially shameful given its role as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, through which it is obligated to act in good faith in upholding and maintaining international peace and security. Instead of playing an important role in forcing Assad to stop bombing civilians to make a political solution more attainable, Russia is instead intensifying the killing of civilians to empower the position of Assad. This will complicate any efforts to reach a political solution in Syria.

Dr. Sharif Kaf Al-Ghazal from the Syrian Association of Yorkshire says: ‘Russian atrocities against civilians have left the Syrian people hopeless and in complete despair. There is little condemnation and protest against this illegal and immoral intervention and the Syrian people feel more alone than ever at the failure of the international community to at the very least speak out against this.’

Putin is repeating the criminal “scorched earth policy” which destroyed Grozny 15 years earlier and is applying this barbaric tactic in one of the largest civilian areas in northern Syria. In destroying infrastructure and taking countless lives for mere political ends, namely to keep a dictatorial ally in the eastern Mediterranean, Russia’s crimes are unforgiveable.

The international community must pressure Russia in any way possible to stop targeting civilians and to label its actions as war crimes. We recall that the key to achieving a political solution in Syria can only begin through civilian protection from indiscriminate attacks such as those perpetrated by Assad and Russia.

Signatories:

Oxford for Syria
Peace and Justice for Syria
Rethink Rebuild Society
Scotland4Syria
Syria Solidarity UK
Syrian Association of Yorkshire
Syrian Welsh Society

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Who are the Syrian rebels?

By Mark Boothroyd

While commentators and politicians profess to not know who the “moderates” are in Syria, there is little excuse for ignorance as to the nature of the Syrian rebels. Over the course of the revolt a large array of writers, bloggers, journalists, amateur analysts and think tanks have produced accounts of the make up of the rebels, their politics, manpower, where they get their support and their ultimate aims. Analysts like Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, Charles Lister and Aron Lund provide regular analysis on rebel organisations.

Amateur analysts regularly produce infographics showing the shifting alliances, formation of new coalitions and fracturing of old ones, and territorial conquests and losses. The most prolific of these are probably Archicivilians, and Thomas Van Linge, whose work was covered by the BBC.

Any armed group of a reasonable size has its own Twitter account used to announce offensives and issue statements, a website for hosting information, and YouTube channel for uploading films of their military victories, propaganda and recruitment videos.

Most of the larger groups have political officers who are responsible for liaising with the political opposition, the media and issuing statements and information about the progress of the struggle. Many of them are on twitter.

The political officer for Ahrar Al-Sham, Labib Al-Nahhas, recently had articles published in both the Telegraph and the Washington Post.

All the rebel groups listed below have opposed US-led Coalition and Russian air strikes on Syria as attacks on the revolution. Rebel groups have condemned sectarian massacres where they have been carried out by jihadist groups aligned with the opposition.

The fact that large sections of the left and progressive and anti-war movement can rubbish these statements about “moderate rebels” is down to their own wilful ignorance, not lack of available information.

Much attention has been paid to the Kurdish Peoples Protection Units, the YPG, but they operate only in the North and East of Syria, and coverage of them does not provide information on what is happening in the rest of the country. The YPG are also not in conflict with the Assad regime, so don’t constitute part of the armed rebellion against Assad.

ISIS is sometimes portrayed as part of the rebellion, but it has more the character of a foreign occupying force, with the majority of its fighters being Iraqi or other foreign fighters. All rebel groups have been at war with ISIS since January 2014, and civil protest groups were trying to force it to leave opposition areas from early on in 2013.

There are hundreds of armed groups in Syria, the legacy of the fragmented formation of the armed struggle. Several armed factions and coalitions dominate the armed struggle. Around them the major alliances and offensives pivot. Below are listed the most significant factions, their ideological make up, approximate size and main backers.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

The Humanitarian Impact of Russia’s Intervention

By Kellie Strom

The same day as the House of Commons debated airstrikes, elsewhere in Westminster the APPG for Syria was hosting a briefing by GOAL, an Irish NGO working inside northern Syria. The briefing was led by CEO Barry Andrews.

GOAL’s programme began in 2012, and is now reaching over a million people in rebel–held or contested areas. They distribute food to nearly 500,000 people. They supply flour to over 50 bakeries providing bread at stabilised prices to nearly one million people.

GOAL also supports water and hygiene services for over half a million people. In 2016 they plan expanding water systems and rural sanitation.

On livelihoods, GOAL supports farming families with pesticides, and plans on supporting related businesses and market systems, and developing small business groups accessible to women.
When GOAL first set up projects inside Syria, it was in the expectation that the war would end more quickly, and that the effort would support post–war transition and reconstruction. As things are, their work has helped temper the flow of refugees, making it possible for many to stay inside Syria. Their North Syria Response Fund is reaching over 200,000 internally displaced people, many from Aleppo and Homs.

Now the violence of Russia’s intervention has thrown the future of all this in doubt.

Russia is seen as carrying on Assad’s work, choosing to hit non-ISIS forces and infrastructure. There are fewer of Assad’s barrel bombs now, but the Russian weapons have far greater intensity. Buildings are gone in a single strike. They are targeting areas that were previously relatively safe, targeting border areas, hitting humanitarian convoys as well as commercial traffic.

People who before were prepared to stay now lack confidence that it is tenable, and there is a danger that pressure on Aleppo and Homs could displace as many as a million more.

While they see some grounds for hope in negotiations, GOAL are concerned not just by the bombing of civilians, but also at the bombing of FSA forces “holding the line against ISIS.”

While some have questioned the existence of moderate Syrian forces to fight ISIS, GOAL’s experience is that where there is extremism it’s amongst foreign fighters, whereas Syrian fighters are nationalists and “can be reasoned with.”

Where once there was talk of humanitarian intervention, now the focus has shifted to security threats and funding for aid has reduced even as the humanitarian crisis has worsened.

There is both a humanitarian and a political reason to continue aid work inside Syria, Barry Andrews argued; if you want forces of moderation to resist extremism, they need to be able to live and survive.

With thanks to the APPG for Syria Chair Roger Godsiff MP and his staff.

First published in Syria Notes.

Related at EA WorldView: Russia’s Aerial Victory—80% Aid Cut, 260,000 Displaced, Infrastructure Damaged.


Sunday, 13 December 2015

Women’s perspectives on the Syrian conflict

Women’s perspectives on the Syrian conflict

1-2pm on Wednesday 16th December 2015,
The Wilson Room, Portcullis House,
Bridge Street, London SW1A 2LW.

“Peacebuilding defines our future now” is a study of women’s peace activism in Syria by the Badael Foundation. Discussing this report will be Raheb Alwany, a co-author of the report and a researcher at Badael, and Laila Alodaat, the Crisis Response Programme Manager at the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

The Syrian war has had particular effects on women, as victims of the targeting of civilian areas, of the destruction of health services, and of the use of sexual violence as an instrument of oppression. However, women continue to play a crucial role in building peace and spreading the culture of non-violence within their communities and beyond.

Despite their central role in the construction and preservation of civil society during this war, Syrian women are being challenged by the increasing militarisation of the conflict, which shrinks their space, and marginalises their voices and contributions. This event will focus on women’s contributions to overcoming the Syrian crisis through grassroots peace building, and on what needs to be done to insure their protection and support their efforts.

Speakers
Raheb Alwany, researcher, Badael Foundation
Laila Alodaat, Crisis Response Programme manager, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

Chair
Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh MP

We hope you will be able to attend.

Please RSVP to Syria Solidarity UK at info@syriauk.org

PDF version of this page.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Together For Syria



Above: BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend report on our Together For Syria event. Broadcast 6 December 2015. BBC News website version.

Saturday’s Together For Syria event gathered activists from several groups across the UK. Barton Creeth has written an account for the Slugger O’Toole blog:
In the Khalili Lecture Theater at SOAS, the Syrians on the panel, representing different pro-Syrian organisations based in the UK, spoke repeatedly on the theme of getting Syrian voices heard. For Syrians, it’s a great frustration that both the left and the right of the British political spectrum seem intent on rehabilitating the Assad regime—which is, according to the voices in the room, the root of the Syrian crisis, and the main cause of the rise of ISIS.

Read the rest: Syria Still Dreams of Freedom.

Leaders Bombing Syria Are Ignoring Syrians. We Need Civilian Protection.



This is an urgent SOS. The horrific terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut demonstrate that the violence, insecurity and tragedy of Syria have travelled far beyond its borders. After close to five years of crisis, we all see that no one can afford for the violence in Syria to continue. No one can afford more war. No one can afford unsustainable peace.

All of us, and especially we Syrians, need the violence to end. Now, more than ever, peace talks on Syria must succeed. We need a peace that will hold. And we can achieve that. To do so, we need world leaders who have been meeting in Vienna to listen to our voice: guarantee our protection. Save our Syria.

Peace in Syria and international security will not come through airstrikes against ISIS alone. Peace will not come if Assad continues to wage war on civilians. Peace won’t develop in the backrooms of Vienna if Syrian streets are soaked in blood. If the international community is serious about reaching a political solution in Syria, world leaders must end the indiscriminate violence that costs Syrian lives. To save our Syria, to protect international security, we must first save Syrian civilians.

After four weeks of the Vienna talks on Syria, world leaders produced a nine-point communiqué that makes no mention of Syrian civilians, no reference to our calls for protection and no guarantee to take the measures needed to end the indiscriminate violence that kills so many. World leaders are not on a path towards peace and security in Syria because they are not listening to Syrian voices. Not a single Syrian has been at the negotiating table—despite repeated assurances that any future transition would be Syria-led and Syrian-owned. World leaders must do better when they next meet on Dec. 18 in New York.

Syrian lives matter. Syrian blood is being shed. Syrians must bring about the peace that will heal our country. It is our voices—above all others—that deserve to be heard. And our voices—overwhelmingly—are calling for civilian protection. Unless the participants at Vienna recognize and act on our calls for civilian protection, talks will lack legitimacy and will not secure peace.

Take the time to ask any Syrian what’s wanted—and above all what’s needed—and they will tell you: “protection.” Syrians across the political, ethnic and religious spectrum want protection from the indiscriminate killing primarily executed through aerial bombardment. We want protection from the barrel bombs, cluster munitions and chemical weapons that suffocate, maim and kill our children. We want protection from the missiles, kidnappings and other forms of indiscriminate warfare that take the lives of so many of our people.

Protection is the key to saving lives in Syria. It is also the key to getting peace talks on track and to reaching a political solution. We saw in Geneva in 2014 that talks won’t work if Syrians are being starved into submission and bombed into oblivion. They won’t gain traction if civilians are subject to relentless indiscriminate attacks, while high-profile leaders talk “peace” in far-off European capitals. Talks will fail if ordinary Syrians see them as little more than a cover for escalating violence on the ground or as a diplomatic charade that does little more than raise false hopes.

We Syrians want the Vienna process to succeed. We are desperate for peace. If Vienna could deliver a ceasefire, that would be a big step towards peace. But war has taught us that we must be realistic. No process throughout the conflict has delivered a comprehensive ceasefire, even when the parties have agreed to it.

To guard against the potential for the talks to fail, participants of the Vienna talks must guarantee to enforce civilian protection. Such a guarantee would make Syrians’ buy-in more likely, and it would increase the odds that the Syrian regime and Russia stop their killing of their own volition.

After close to five years of conflict, our country is in ruins. At least 250,000 of our brothers and sisters have died. Half of our people have been displaced, and the other half is in need of humanitarian assistance. The tragedy and insecurity of Syria is fuelling ISIS recruitment, causing mass flows of refugees and destabilizing Europe.

Terrorism and extremism are posing an unprecedented threat. The entire world is watching Syria in full awareness that the killing must stop. It’s time the world listens to Syrians and does what Syrians know must be done to end the conflict. Guarantee the protection of civilians. Save our Syria before it’s too late.


Signatories

Syria Civil Defence (The White Helmets) · Syrian Emergency Task Force · Syrian Civil Society Alliance · Syrian Women's Network · Syrian Nonviolence Movement · Centre for Thought and Public Affairs · Free Syrian Translators · Help4Syria · Kurds House · Peace and Justice for Syria · Rethink Rebuild Society · Scotland4Syria · Syrian Association of Yorkshire ·Syrian Community of the South West · Syrian Platform for Peace ·Syria Relief Network · Syria Solidarity UK · Syrian Welsh Society · Gulsin Mohamad & Hamdiya Rasho, Sawa organisation, Qamishli · Hefa Jaja, Organisation for the Protection of Human Rights (DAD), Hasakah · Shiyar Khaleal, The Union of Kurdish Journalists in Syria · Ahed Nofal, Lawyer and Activist · Dr. Abdulkarim Hariri, Representative of Coalition of Civil Society Groups in Southern Syria, Daraa · Joud al Aseel, Damascus · Saeed Al Sheikh, Syrian Institute for Justice and Accountability · Homad Homad, Free Lawyers of Aleppo · Nour Hallak, Wisdom House, Idlib, former political prisoner · Seham Torkmany, Lawyer, Daraa · Yahia Nanaa, Former president of the Aleppo Provincial Council · Hussein Hamdon, Journalist, Idlib · Alaaeedin Sallal, Journalist, Idlib ·