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Saturday, 31 December 2016

Wadi Barada: Civil society and local government groups call for enforcement of the ceasefire agreement




The following statement comes from local civil society and local government organisations in Wadi Barada.

Wadi Barada outside Damascus has seen an escalation of regime attacks by the Assad regime and its allies in recent weeks, including bombing that has damaged water facilities supplying Damascus city. According to the UN, four million people in Damascus are now without mains water as a result of facilities being attacked.



We, the undersigned entities (civil societies organisations, local civil services entities, local activists, Syrian NGOs and local communities organisations) which are working in the towns and villages of Wadi Barada; declare the following:

The civilian and the above mentioned organizations felt optimistic once the cease fire agreement signed under the auspices of Russia and Turkey. We believed the bloodshed will reach to end in Syria in general and in Wadi Barada region in specific. But, unfortunately, the military campaign and offensive operations has not put its end by the regime’s army and its allied militias of Hizboullah the Lebanese militia and with a full support and guidance from Iran. This campaign is threatening more than one hundred thousand civilians trapped in the Wadi Barada region.

The civilians in this region are suffering from the absence of the basic necessities of life. The basic commodities are not accessing the local markets due to severe block of the main access roads. The physical security of the trapped civilians is vitally challenged due to continuous land shelling and air raids. These military attacks are not targeting fronts; rather, it is taking place randomly. The impact of the recent offensive operation is not against the civilians trapped inside Wadi Barada region, it is directly affecting the living conditions of 6 million civilians who are living in Damascus city. The populations in Damascus are suffering from shortage of water because the regime’s air forces have targeted the Fijeh Spring facility and put it out of service.

Although the delegation of the Syrian Free Army notified the Russian delegation of the importance of including Wadi Barada region in the cease fire agreement and recognising the agreement to include this region in the general agreement of the ceasefire, shockingly the regime’s troops and its allied militias among them Hizbollah resumed its aggression after the zero hour by dropping so far more than 35 explosive barrels against civilian areas. In addition, the Syrian regime’s air forces conducted so far 10 air raids against the villages and towns in Wadi Barada. Even more, the ground troops took several attempts to advance from different axes. It is worth to mention, that the defending armed opposition groups and the civilians are taking the most limited response in an attempt to maintain the ceasefire, which they believe it is an opportunity to bring peace to Syria.

The above mentioned entities assure that the regime’s allegations of targeting Fateh Asham bases and personnel are purely lies. The above mentioned entities and the armed opposition groups declare that Fateh Asham does not have presence in Wadi barada region. The Armed opposition group in the region is under the Abdal Asham, which is one of the Syrian Free Army fractions and local groups of people originated from Wadi Barada and who are holding weapons to defend their houses. All of these armed groups are not belonging or believing in Fateh Asham ideology.

We the people of Wadi barada and the above mentioned entities and the Armed Opposition groups operating in Wadi Barada who signed this document, we are calling sponsors of the ceasefire agreement (Russia and turkey) to assume their responsibilities and appealing to them for practicing the needed pressure against the regime and its allied militias for putting on halt the aggression and maintain the protection of civilians and respecting the ceasefire agreement.

We, the above mentioned entities and the armed opposition groups operating in Wadi Barada declare that once the ceasefire agreement is respected and all aggression operations among them ground and air operations are on hold against the civilian populated areas in Wadi Barada, we will work immediately on facilitating the entrance of the maintenance teams to the water facility in Fijeh Spring and allowing the accessories to access and we will make all the available efforts to assist the maintenance team for resuming the water supply to our people in Damascus city.

Finally, we call on representatives from the sponsoring states and the the United Nations organizations and the International Red Cross to enter the Wadi Barada valley to assess the humanitarian situation and facilitating the humanitarian access of the medical and other humanitarian assistance to affected people in Wadi Barada Region.

Signers:

Relief Commission for Wadi Barada and its neighborhoods
Medical Corps in Wadi Barada
Media Corps in Wadi Barada
Local Council in Wadi Barada
Civil Defense in Wadi Barada
Institution of Barada Al Kheir
Institution of Ghouth Barada

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

How to justify mass-murder: Aleppo and the apologists


Interview with Syrian activist Lina Al Shamy while she was still in Aleppo, 19 December.

By Amr Salahi

Last week, as Assad’s forces and their foreign militia allies closed in on the last remaining opposition enclave in East Aleppo, the horrific crimes being committed during their assault became headline news across the world. In one massacre alone as many as 82 people were reported killed, and there were reports of children being burned alive.

Activists and civil defence workers in Aleppo uploaded photos and videos, and gave interviews to international media, telling the world that they were trapped and completely surrounded in East Aleppo. Nearly 100,000 people were herded by the Assad regime and its allies into an area of less than two square kilometres. The people in this tiny enclave were deprived of food, medicine, and electricity while cluster bombs and barrel bombs dropped by the Russian and Syrian air forces rained down on them.

Eventually, what was called an ‘evacuation’ agreement was signed. This was a misnomer. The people remaining in East Aleppo were being given a choice: either a horrific death at the hands of the regime and its militia allies, or permanent forced displacement from their city to other opposition-held areas of Syria—where they would be subject to continued aerial bombardment by Russia and the Assad regime.

In the age of digital media, it is very difficult to prevent photographic evidence of such atrocities or to silence the voices of those trapped in conflict zones. However, there is a concerted effort by some advocacy groups and some sections of the media to do just that. Other articles have dealt with the efforts of Russian media and activists associated with them to misrepresent the situation in Aleppo. This article will look at what was said in the United Kingdom, examining statements published on the website of the Stop the War Coalition and an article by Patrick Cockburn, a journalist who has been widely and misleadingly quoted as an authoritative source on Syria.

Stop the War: War Crimes are Fine as Long as We Don’t Get Involved

One would expect that an organisation called ‘Stop the War’ would have something to say about the killing, starvation, and siege of civilians in Aleppo. It would be easy for them, for example, to publish links to some of the English-language video reports uploaded to YouTube and Twitter by Syrian media activists trapped in Aleppo. But there was no mention of these, even though Stop the War does have a lot to say about Aleppo.

In two articles on Stop the War’s website, the organisation’s National Convenor, Lindsey German, took the greatest pains to make sure the attention of Stop the War supporters was drawn away from the atrocities taking place there. One of these, entitled ‘Aleppo Debate: MPs in Denial Once Again,’ began with the sentence ‘The usual stench of hypocrisy is oozing from the Palace of Westminster’ and attacked ‘right wing Labour MPs’ for daring to suggest that intervention in 2013 would have prevented what German herself admits is a ‘terrible situation’ in Aleppo.

German justified this by saying that the ‘ongoing catastrophe’ in Libya since 2011 was ‘solid proof that western bombing and intervention only makes things worse.’ Apparently, no matter how hellish a situation is, no matter how many people are being slaughtered, and no matter how much intervention there is from non-Western countries (there are reports now that the foreign Shi’i militias fighting for Assad in Syria now actually outnumber his own forces) any intervention anywhere by Western countries will ‘only make things worse.’

She misleadingly said that 30,000 Libyans died as a result of NATO intervention in the country, when this often quoted figure in fact applies to all casualties of the war, including those killed by Qadhafi. (Human Rights Watch confirmed a minimum of 72 civilians killed by NATO’s Libya intervention.) German could have looked at the speeches Qadhafi made about what he was going to do to the ‘rats’ and ‘cockroaches’ who rose up against him in Benghazi in 2011, or she could have compared the 2016 death tolls documented by Libya Body Count to those in Syria documented by the Syrian Network for Human Rights to see whether Western intervention had led to the worse outcome. But who is she to let facts get in the way of a good argument?

In the rest of the article she went on to blame the UK government for its alleged support for the opposition. This apparently, is the reason for what’s happening in Aleppo. Assad and his allies are killing and starving people in a besieged enclave, but it is all the West’s fault for supporting his opponents. Once again it doesn’t matter that Syrian rebels have complained of a lack of meaningful support from the West since 2012 and have not received any weapons capable of changing the game in their favour in Syria. Nor does it matter that they are hopelessly outgunned and that the regime and its allies continue to have a monopoly on aerial power and heavy weaponry in Syria. For German it is the MPs criticising inaction who are in denial, and the stench of hypocrisy is so strong she can’t actually smell where it is coming from.

Patrick Cockburn: Anyone reporting from Aleppo is Al-Qaeda

In The Independent, Patrick Cockburn went much further. His article began with the words ‘There was a period in 2011 and 2012 when there were genuinely independent opposition activists operating inside Syria, but as the jihadis took over these brave people were forced to flee abroad, fell silent or were dead.’ Reading the rest of the article, the last part of the sentence sounds more like an aspiration than a statement of fact.

According to Cockburn, the reason Western journalists can’t make it to Aleppo is because the ‘jihadis’ hold power there. Never mind the fact that East Aleppo is surrounded and besieged by Assad’s forces and his (religiously motivated) Iranian-run militia allies, never mind the fact that Turkey has closed its border with the rebel held areas of northern Syria, making it impossible for journalists to enter, Cockburn has decided that the reason he can’t go and investigate what’s going is because ‘al-Qaeda type jihadis’ are in control. These same people, he informs us, have kidnapped and killed Western journalist journalists and this is a ‘smart move,’ all part of a conspiracy to control the flow of information to the West and make sure that anyone reporting from East Aleppo or uploading images to the Internet from the city, from seven-year-old Bana al-Abed to members of the Syrian Civil Defence, are jihadist sympathisers and fellow-travellers.

The threat to Western reporters is ‘very real,’ Cockburn points out: ‘James Foley had been ritually beheaded on 8 August 2014 and Steven Sotloff a few days later.’ Cockburn conveniently omits to mention that these journalists were murdered by ISIS, and that ISIS were driven out of Aleppo by the very same ‘jihadists’ who are now in control of Aleppo. The majority of the rebels who controlled East Aleppo until last week in fact owed their allegiance to the Free Syrian Army, which is motivated by a nationalistic opposition to the Assad regime, rather than by Islamism. Fighters from Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, a group which was previously affiliated with Al-Qaeda, accounted for no more than 900 people or 11% of opposition fighters in the city, and may have been much fewer. Like Western journalists, rebel fighters have been ritually murdered by ISIS and their deaths have been even more brutal—they have been publicly crucified in the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa.

But none of this is important when you’re out to prove that everyone being targeted by Assad in Syria is a ‘jihadist’ and that every single fact being reported from a city subject to a bombardment and siege of unprecedented ferocity is ‘jihadist propaganda.’ It doesn’t take much effort to identify the subtext of Cockburn’s article: everyone remaining in East Aleppo is a legitimate target.

‘News organisations,’ he concludes ‘have ended up being spoon-fed by jihadis and their sympathisers.’ If you are a civilian or an activist trapped in what is now the most heavily bombed cities on earth, waiting for forced displacement to a marginally less dangerous area at best or a horrific death at the hands of sectarian-motivated militia at worst, you are by default a jihadi sympathiser and have no right to tell your story to the world. Only Western journalists are capable of telling the truth.

While the people of Aleppo have been literally going through hell this past week, waiting either to be ethnically cleansed from their city or to die horrific deaths, those cited as authoritative sources on the Syrian situation and those claiming to represent a progressive movement working for have been bending over backwards to make sure that their story isn’t told. They have not stopped short of slander and racism in their efforts to obscure the suffering of thousands of innocent people. It doesn’t get much lower than this.


Protesters call for action to save Aleppo and for sanctions against Putin, 17 December.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Die in for Aleppo at Parliament by doctors and nurses



On 17 December, UK doctors and nurses staged a ‘die in’ in front of Parliament to call for protection for their colleagues in Syria.

This followed the departure the same day from London of the People’s Convoy, a project to bring a new crowdfunded hospital to Aleppo province.

The People’s Convoy hospital project is organised by CanDo, Doctors Under Fire, UOSSM, Hand in Hand for Syria, and The Syria Campaign amongst others.

On Twitter, follow Dr Saleyha Ahsan who is travelling with the convoy.

Donate to the People’s Convoy here.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Jeremy’s letter



It’s time that the Leader of the Opposition stopped undermining his own MPs on Syria, writes Clara Connolly

Let’s be clear, the major blame for the UK’s lamentable lack of action on the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria lies with the Government. The Foreign Secretary’s response to the passionate debate in Parliament on Tuesday was almost a joke: he threw up his hands, blaming Parliament itself for its vote against intervention in 2013, which, he said, passed the baton to Russia. Syria was now Russia’s responsibility, and Putin is welcome to it. Nothing to be done.

But the Leader of the Opposition made that response easy, and inevitable. He did not speak at the debate, but he wrote a letter on the subject to Theresa May that morning, which had the effect of undermining his own Foreign Secretary, as well as the many Labour MPs who spoke strongly in favour of action by the UK.

At first sight, the contents are unobjectionable. He asks the Government to ‘press for an end to the violence and a UN-led ceasefire,’ since the rules of war ‘are being broken on all sides.’ He says that Labour has long condemned all attacks on civilians, ‘including those by Russian and pro Government forces in Aleppo, for which there can be no excuse.’

On humanitarian assistance to Aleppo and other besieged areas—an immediate priority—he urges the UK to ‘bolster and affirm the United Nations as the primary avenue for international efforts.’ It should engage all sides in its diplomatic effort, including regional powers. Lastly, he urges ‘patience and persistence’ in pursuing a long term negotiated settlement.

So what is wrong with this? Set alongside the debate, its weaknesses become obvious. But I cannot believe that this is due to haste or ignorance: its extraordinary absence of detail, its anodyne tone, are carefully calibrated. Despite what his fellow MPS might say in the debate, it gave a green light to the Government’s ‘do nothing’ policy.

Firstly, his emphasis on the primacy of the UN takes no note of its complete failure on Syria: stalemate at the Security Council because of Russia’s use of the veto, its refusal to deliver on its own resolutions on humanitarian aid to besieged areas. If he really hoped for UN–led action, it would have been helpful to refer, as some MPS did, to the Unity for Peace (UN 377) resolution proposed by Canada. This is a mechanism which in an emergency can trump the use of veto.

Secondly he makes no mention of the European Union, though there were repeated requests in the Commons for clarity on the UK’s position on the matter in the forthcoming European Council meeting. (The Mayor of Aleppo has since made an urgent plea to the European Council, for a hearing on humanitarian assistance.)

Thirdly he does not refer to the security and safety of civilian and humanitarian activists in Aleppo, in imminent danger of torture and death if captured by the regime—including the famed White Helmets (whose Director had spoken in Parliament recently) and even including British citizens involved in the aid effort there, which Mary Creagh MP repeatedly raised as a matter of urgency with Boris Johnson.

Finally, he makes no allusion to airdrops of food by the UK, despite there being a majority for this in Parliament. MPs from the Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrat, Plaid Cymru, and Conservative parties spoke in favour of it during the debate. It is also popular with the public: at the time of writing there are over 137,000 signatures on a petition, more than enough to trigger a further debate.

Most significantly,  his own Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry,   spoke strongly in favour of the proposal, with Jeremy at her side. She reminded the Government that, months before, they had promised airdrops ‘at the point of last resort,’ and gave way to a fellow Labour MP who asked: ‘if we have not reached the point of last resort, what would it be?’ to which she agreed.  She said that,  if it was considered too risky to pilots to drop food from planes, ‘the Government must use unmanned drones or GPS guided parachutes.’ Inaction, she said, ‘is simply not an option.’ She could not have put the point more insistently.

And yet not a word of support for this, in Jeremy’s letter. It is well past time that the Leader of the Opposition stopped undermining his own MPs in Parliament, including even his closest allies in the Shadow Cabinet.  

As was pointed out to him very clearly during his speech on International Human Rights Day, his own credibility as a champion of human rights is seriously undermined by his significant silences on Syria. Pious and mealy mouthed generalities will not do the trick any longer.


Clara Connolly and fellow protesters, 10 December 2016. Photo © Steve Eason.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Day of action for Aleppo


Aleppo march map by Metropolitan Police

Events in London today Saturday 17 December

11 am: People’s Convoy leaves Chelsea & Westminster Hospital. 

Organised by Can Do Action and a coalition of Syria medical groups, the People’s Convoy is travelling to Syria to build new hospital in Aleppo province. See www.peoplesconvoy.com for more.

12.30 pm: March from Marble Arch.

2-4 pm: Die in and Vigil for Aleppo at Parliament Square, Westminster.

Organised by UK doctors and nurses together with Syria solidarity groups. Meet Syria Solidarity UK by Nelson Mandela statue on Parliament Square at 1.45.

Facebook event page here.

There are solidarity actions for Aleppo all over the world today. If you can't travel to London today check SyriaCalendar.com for the next solidarity action near you.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Today’s emergency debate on Aleppo: What we haven’t done

By Kellie Strom

Tobias Ellwood, UK Government Minister for Middle East, tweeted today to the Russian Ambassador: ‘Emergency Commons debate on Syria today. Please say what you are doing to help those trapped in Aleppo.’

The Russian government, in partnership with the Assad regime, the Iranian regime, the Hezbollah terrorist organisation, and their associated militias, are jointly committing crimes against humanity in Syria. The ferocity of those crimes is escalating in these days, but they have been ongoing for years. As crimes against humanity, they are attacks not just on Syrians but on the common security of us all.

A UK minister should not be pleading with a representative of a joint criminal enterprise for mercy. Our Government should not be pleading with these criminals for mercy. We should be defending our common humanity, our shared security, robustly and relentlessly.

There are still people alive to be saved: on the run in Aleppo, under siege in Madaya and the suburbs of Damascus, in prisons across Syria. There are many possible actions that we and others have proposed that haven’t been attempted by our Government.

We haven’t seen UK airdrops, even to areas away from the Russian focus of operations such as Madaya which is only minutes from Syria’s border.

We haven’t seen RAF surveillance drones make their presence felt over hospitals and other civilian targets to deter war crimes.

We haven’t seen the UK track and publicly identify aircraft committing war crimes and publicly identify officers and officials with command responsibility.

We haven’t seen any sanctions against Russian individuals implicated in war crimes.

We haven’t seen any sanctions against Iranian airlines resupplying Assad.

We haven’t allowed our much discussed prospective allies against ISIS, the Free Syrian Army, to have the means to defend themselves and their fellow Syrians against Assad’s and Putin’s air attacks.

We haven’t dared do anything to constrain or deter Assad’s ongoing chemical attacks, at the same time as Israel has regularly enforced its own red lines by carrying out air strikes against Assad and Hezbollah forces.

Assad and Putin’s mode of operation is to attack the weakest: to attack hospitals, schools, and aid workers. They are free to attack the weak because we are afraid to be strong.

This is a war against humanity, a war against every law and convention that keeps us secure. We must defend ourselves now and end Assad’s and Putin’s slaughter.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Labour urged on International Human Rights Day: ‘Actions not words on Syria’



Peter Tatchell has joined with activists from Syria Solidarity UK to disrupt a speech by Jeremy Corbyn, and urge the Labour Party to pursue “actions not words” to save civilians in Aleppo. 

Jeremy Corbyn was outlining the Labour Party’s commitment to fundamental rights on Human Rights Day, when activists silently took to the stage with placards saying ‘Action not words: Back UK Aid Drops now’.

Campaigner Peter Tatchell, who joined the action today, said:

 ‘On this day, politicians across the world have gathered to give speeches and celebrate the noble sentiments in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Yet in Aleppo, even as these words are being voiced, Syrian and Russian forces are targeting fleeing refugees, children in schools, doctors in hospitals, and paramedics from The White Helmets. In addition 200,000 civilians are being deliberately starved in Aleppo and over a million elsewhere in Free Syria. We call on the Labour Party to live up to its progressive rhetoric and actively push for aid drops’

Clara from Syria Solidarity UK added: “Do Syrian civilians have human rights? If so, why are we allowing this to continue? Western diplomats have conceded that there are no technical obstacles to delivering airdrops of food and medicine to Aleppo using a GPS-guided parachute system. What is lacking is the political will. If we stay silent, if Western politicians refuse to take what actions are available to them, then they are complicit in these massacres’

Syria Solidarity UK are calling on Mr. Corbyn, Labour Party MPs and members to engage more fully with the situation in Syria and publicly and vocally:

  • Support calls for humanitarian access to besieged areas in Syria.
  • Push for a parliamentary vote on unilateral UK aid drops.
  • Demand the suspension of Syria from the UN until it agrees to a ceasefire, and stops blocking aid to besieged areas.
  • Request UN supervised evacuations of the White Helmets and the civilian population.


Contact info@syriauk.org for more information.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Save Aleppo activists call on UK to say no to Putin’s bloody money



Syria Solidarity activists today protested outside the Russian British Business Forum, to call for sanctions on Russia. The conference, which promises to ‘bring together business and finance officials from Russia and the UK,’ has been organised by the Russian Trade delegation in the UK. The event is being held at The Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in central London even as Putin’s bombers destroy Aleppo, intentionally targeting hospitals and schools, and indiscriminately killing men, women and children.

Activists in ‘Save Aleppo’ t-shirts offered ‘bloody money’ leaflets to delegates and let off confetti canons as they entered the conference, and offered ‘bloody money’ to the Russian Ambassador as he arrived. Since the resumption of the Russian and Syrian regimes’ bombardment of Aleppo on November 15th, over 500 civilians have been killed. Tens of thousands of them are fleeing from Russian jets—many bombed as they seek escape.



Amr Salahi, a Syrian activist who was outside the conference this morning, said ‘On Monday Theresa May said “business as usual” with Russia is not an option, yet today we witness a trade event going ahead as planned. We urge the UK business community to think carefully: any company that continues to trade with Russia at this time will be associated with its war crimes in Aleppo and risk lasting reputational damage.’

He added: ‘The UK and the EU have already imposed some sanctions on the Putin regime for its illegal annexation of the Crimea, but businesses in the UK are still able to trade with Russia, and Russian banks still have access to the SWIFT international banking system.’

‘The reality is that current sanctions have not been enough to deter Putin from further violence against the Ukraine, nor from his campaign to destroy all popular democratic resistance to the Assad regime. The world has no legitimate business with a regime which is currently exterminating an entire city, and committing war crimes, in order to keep a dictator in power.’

Flora Bain, part of the Syria Solidarity Campaign UK, said ‘The truth is that UK trade with Russia taints us all with the blood of Syria’s children. The price of allowing Putin’s aggression to continue is too high. We must act now.’

Activists will be protesting outside the conference all day to call on the UK Government and business sector to:

  • Freeze all trade with Russia until its military stops targeting Syrian civilians.
  • Demand that Russia is cut out of the SWIFT international banking system to make it more difficult for Putin’s regime to do business abroad.
  • Join the growing calls for a UN General Assembly emergency session to bypass the Russian UNSC veto and allow measures to protect civilians in Syria.


Syria Solidarity UK is a grassroots solidarity group of Syrian and UK activists. Contact: info@syriauk.org

More information on the conference and a full list of speakers is available at www.easternseasons.com/forum2016



Ireland: Arrest Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun



Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun, grand mufti of Syria, a regime-approved religious leader, is this week amongst a delegation visiting the Irish Parliament, Dáil Éireann, campaigning for EU sanctions against the Assad regime to be lifted.

This man has previously threatened that Syria will send suicide bombers to all of Europe—see video above. The Irish police, An Garda Síochána, should urgently detain this man and charge him with inciting terrorism.

Background: Religious delegation from Syria in Ireland to campaign against EU sanctions, by Patsy McGarry for the Irish Times.

Via Irish Syria Solidarity Movement.

UPDATE: Irish Muslims condemn Syria's Grand Mufti's visit to Dublin, report by Robert Cusack for The New Arab.

Below: Report from RTE News: The mufti says he was ‘sending a love message to Europe.’



Say NO to killer Putin’s bloody money



Russo-British Chamber of Commerce promotes trade with Russia at Westminster event

The world watched in horror over the past few days, weeks and months as Putin’s bombers destroyed Aleppo, intentionally targeting hospitals and schools, deliberately destroying a UN aid convoy, and indiscriminately killing men, women and children.

Since the resumption of Russian and Syrian bombardment of Aleppo on November 15th, over 500 civilians have been killed. As you read this, tens of thousands more are fleeing from Russian jets, many bombed even as they seek escape.

Now, even as these war crimes continue, the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce has decided it would be a good time to promote trade links with Russia with an event at  The Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in the heart of Westminster.

Theresa May said yesterday that ‘business as usual’ with Russia is not an option. The UK and the EU have already imposed some sanctions on the Putin regime for its illegal annexation of the Crimea, but businesses in the UK are still able to trade with Russia, and Russian banks still have access to the SWIFT international banking system.

Current sanctions are not enough to deter Putin from aggressive acts against Ukraine, nor from his campaign to keep Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in power by destroying every vestige of popular democratic resistance to the regime.

Putin claims to fight terrorism in Syria, but military observers have documented that hardly any Russian airstrikes actually target ISIS. Instead Putin’s target is those Syrian communities which reject Assad. The world has no legitimate business with a regime which is currently exterminating an entire city in order to keep a dictator in power.

UK trade with Russia taints us all with the blood of Putin’s crimes. Putin’s and Assad’s war against the Syrian population has driven millions to flee, and has helped destabilise politics across Europe. Putin’s actions in Syria and Ukraine undermine the rule of law and threaten all our futures. The price of allowing Putin’s aggressions to continue is too high.

We call on the UK Government and UK business sector to:

  • Freeze all trade with Russia until the Putin regime ceases its targeting of Syrian civilians.
  • Demand that Russia is cut out of the SWIFT international banking system to make it much more difficult for Putin’s regime to do business abroad.
  • Join the growing calls for a UN General Assembly emergency session to bypass the Russian UNSC veto on international measures to protect civilians in Syria.

We urge the UK business community to think carefully; any company that continues to trade with Russia risks lasting damage through association with a regime guilty of ongoing crimes against humanity.

We urge the UK Government to immediately impose a no-bombing zone on Aleppo and all opposition held areas of Syria. We urge the UK Government to carry out emergency aid drops to Aleppo and other besieged areas from its base in Adana, only 15 minutes flying time away. Break the starvation siege that Putin and Assad are imposing on hundreds of thousands of innocent people.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Joint faith leaders' statement calls for UK Government to get aid into East Aleppo

A broad group of 15 UK faith leaders have come together to urge the UK government to take immediate action to deliver aid to civilians in besieged Aleppo.

The plea made today—from Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh faith leaders—comes as humanitarian organisations warn that supplies of food and medicine are running out in East Aleppo.

Harun Khan, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain said: “As faith leaders, we are all motivated by our respective faiths to help alleviate those suffering, and as my faith uses the comparable of the suffering of the world to that of one’s body, where if one part suffers, the rest of the body suffers, we cannot stand by and watch thousands on the brink of starvation and do nothing. We urge the UK government to take urgent action so that much needed aid can reach those in desperate need of it.”

Statement in full:

Joint Statement Calling for the Urgent Delivery of Humanitarian Aid to Aleppo

We, UK faith leaders, jointly call on the UK Government to act to support the urgent delivery of aid to those besieged in Aleppo.

In eastern Aleppo, an estimated 250,000 people, including 100,000 children, have been cut off from food and medical supplies since August 2016. The UN warns that there will soon be no food left in the besieged part of the city.

This is an ancient city which has been home to people of many faiths, we pray for all those still in the city and call for action to preserve the lives of the people of Aleppo.

The situation is now desperate, yet the UN is still being prevented from delivering desperately needed aid to the besieged civilians. It seems a very real possibility that the world could stand by whilst 250,000 people are facing starvation.

As faith leaders we bear witness to the suffering of all those in the city of Aleppo.We call on the UK government to take action at an international level, including in the UN General Assembly, and to provide practical support to facilitate the delivery of aid to civilians in the city.

The UK can lead the way in alleviating the terrible suffering of the people of Aleppo, we pray that action is taken to come to their aid.

Signatories:

  • Muslim Council of Britain, Harun Khan, Secretary General. 
  • Lewisham Islamic Centre, Imam Shakeel Begg. 
  • Mohammed Kozbar, Director of Finsbury Park Mosque. 
  • Baptist Union of Great Britain, The Revd Lynn Green, General Secretary.
  • Church of Scotland, The Rev Dr Richard Frazer, Convener of the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland 
  • Methodist Church, Revd Dr Roger Walton, President of the Methodist Conference and Rachel Lampard, Vice President of the Methodist Conference. 
  • United Reformed Church, The Revd John Proctor, General Secretary. 
  • Hindu Council UK, Sanjay Jagatia, Director. 
  • Liberal Judaism, Rabbi Danny Rich, Chief Executive. 
  • Reform Judaism, Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi.
  • Dayan Ivan Binstock, Dayan of the London Beth Din.
  • Sikh Council UK, Mr Gurmel Singh, Secretary General.
  • Gaia House Buddhist Meditation Retreat Centre, Rob Burbea.
  • Satipanya Buddhist Trust, Bhante Bodhidhamma, Spiritual Director.

Over 120 MPs call on Theresa May to support air drops to Aleppo

More than 120 MPs from across UK parliamentary parties this weekend called on Prime Minister Theresa May to support air drops of food and medicine to besieged areas in Syria. The letter was reported in the Observer on 27 November by Toby Helm and Emma Graham-Harrison.

Citing desperate situation of those in Aleppo the MPs wrote: “This is now the epicentre of the crisis. The Assad and Putin regimes are moving to ‘exterminate’ all those who have not already been killed as a consequence of their indiscriminate bombing campaigns.

“In the last 10 days all hospitals there, including the last children’s hospital, have been bombed out of operation. Centres belonging to the heroic volunteers of the White Helmets [Syria Civil Defence] have also been destroyed. The last aid delivery was three months ago and medical workers estimate we have less than two weeks before all food runs out.

“With our Royal Air Force already operational in the air over Syria, we are calling on you to urgently authorise the air-dropping of aid to besieged civilian populations. It is simply not acceptable that during the biggest aid operation in the UN’s history, and in the full glare of the world’s media, nearly 100,000 children are facing the slowest, cruellest death because we cannot reach them with food and medical supplies.

“Air-dropping aid is only ever a last resort, but who can credibly claim we have not reached that point? The Syrian government is refusing all attempts to allow access to UN relief agencies whilst simultaneously dropping chlorine gas onto civilian populations.”

MPs who signed include former Conservative front bench ministers Michael Gove, Andrew Mitchell, alongside Sir Nicholas Soames, former Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, Clive Lewis, and Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry. The letter was coordinated by Labour MPs Alison McGovern (co-chair of the all party parliamentary group Friends of Syria) and John Woodcock.

See the Observer article here.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

A message from the people of Aleppo to the world.



A message sent today from Aleppo:

Today marks the 91st day of Aleppo city besiegement. According to Aleppo city council statistics 271,536 people are stuck inside the east of Aleppo.

Over 2,300 strikes including airstrikes, explosive barrels, artillery, cluster bombs, bunker-busters, and bombs loaded with chlorine gas, have been documented over the last 23 days only.

Eight hospitals and medical centres have been struck, four hospitals over the last week, six schools, two bakeries, and civil defence HQ.

Both Russian and Syrian regime air forces are intentionally targeting the civilian infrastructure in order to break people’s will. Currently people have almost zero access to medical care, people are afraid to go to hospitals due to the intentional Russian and Syrian regime airstrikes.

It has been almost six years and we are wondering what the world was doing. More than 500,000 people have died. How many hospitals or schools does it take to see real actions against war crimes in Syria?

It can’t get more gruesome than this. We are in 2016 and 271,536 people are trapped in a besieged city facing death from bombardment and possibly very soon starvation. The dysfunctionality of the world is responsible for 500,000 deaths and for those 271,536 trapped in the city.

We wonder: Why do we have UN? Why do we have human rights laws?

This has been a slow-motion train wreck, and this message is from the people who lasted in Aleppo to the world: don’t look back years from now and wish that you can do something. You can still do. We ask you to:

  • Ground Assad air-force that’s killing us, or at least have some diplomatic leverage to force the Syria regime and Russia’s bombardment of the city of Aleppo to be stopped.
  • We ask you to open a demilitarised humanitarian corridor for the people of Aleppo to revolutionaries-held areas under the observation of the UN only, without the presence of any other groups or countries, a corridor that allows free movements of food, fuel, medicines and all merchandises for the civilian essential infrastructure inside eastern Aleppo—water stations, electricity, hospitals, schools and civil defence—both for relief aid and trade movements. Revolutionaries armed groups did agree on allowing relief aid passage to eastern Aleppo yet both the Syrian regime and Russia are refusing. 
  • If the international community won’t be able to open the previous mentioned corridor or be able to convince the Syrian regime to pass the relief aid toward eastern Aleppo, we urge the world and the west specially to airdrop the humanitarian aids as there are already warplanes for the US-led collation in Syria not far from Aleppo city. We are the people of eastern Aleppo and we emphasise that we have no problems with relief aid airdrop. 

The international community holds responsibility of any future consequences of Aleppo besiegement hoping that our voices will be heard, and Aleppo will be saved.


Read CNN’s report on the video message: A message from the people of Aleppo to the world.

Monday, 21 November 2016

British Syrian organisations outraged over UK’s inaction on Syria in light of Putin and Assad’s military escalations in Aleppo



PDF version.

The last few days have witnessed the descent of Aleppo into the dark ages. All remaining hospitals within the besieged areas of the city have been hit by Assad and Putin. Assad and Putin’s systematic targeting of hospitals, schools, and civilian infrastructure must stop and it must stop immediately and unconditionally.

It is well-documented that Daesh does not exist in Aleppo. Assad and Putin’s unsubstantiated claims for airstrikes on the city are only an excuse to terrorise the civilians of the city into submission.

It is also deeply infuriating that in the midst of this unprecedented level of violence, European leaders are meeting to discuss a political solution that could be negotiated with Assad and Putin. It seems that we have not learned from our previous failures. Political negotiations with these war criminals will only be effective if backed with credible threats of enforcement.

To this end, we are calling upon our Government to take immediate and robust action to end the carnage in Aleppo. Specifically, we are calling upon the Government to:

  • Impose immediately a no-bombing zone in Syria enforced by a threat of strikes against Assad regime military targets which will not entail boots on the ground, flights over Syrian airspace, or a direct confrontation with Russia
  • Conduct humanitarian aid drops to besieged areas inside Syria
  • Introduce additional sanctions against the Assad regime and its backers
  • Track and publicly report aircraft that are responsible for attacks on civilian areas as a means of ‘naming and shaming’ the perpetrators
  • Pursue an emergency special session within the UN General Assembly as a means of circumventing Russia’s persistent use of the veto in the UN Security Council
  • Continue to push for accountability for perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria.


History is being written. In twenty years we will look back on Aleppo and question why we did not do more. Inaction is a choice. We do not want to view Aleppo the same way we view Srebrenica and Rwanda today. It is never too late to act. History compels us to act.

Signatories:

Dr. Haytham Alhamwi, Rethink Rebuild Society
Amr Salahi, Syria Solidarity UK
Dr. Sharif Kaf Al-Ghazal, Syrian Association of Yorkshire
Abdullah Alobwany, Oxford for Syria
Dr. Amer Masri, Scotland4Syria
Dr. Mohammad Tammo, Kurds House
Dr Hassan Dibs Wazait, Syrian British Medical Society
Mazen Ejbaei, Help 4Syria
Bachar Hakim, Syrian Society of Nottinghamshire
Dr. Mohammad Alhadj Ali, Syrian Welsh Society
Dr. Fadel Moghrabi, Peace and Justice for Syria
Reem Assil, Syrian Platform for Peace
Dr. Abdullah Hanoun, Syrian Community of the South West

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Call on UK councils to support the Local Council of Aleppo City



In her work on Syria, Jo Cox was particularly struck by how civil society has carried on in the most appalling conditions. A key example of that is the local councils that have been set up in opposition areas.

Read about Syria’s local councils in the last issue of Syria Notes published before Jo’s death.

This week Russian forces have resumed attacks on besieged civilians in the Syrian city of Aleppo. 275,000 people remain trapped in east Aleppo according to Stephen O’Brien of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

A third of those are children according to UNICEF.

UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura is trying to negotiate an end to the siege of Aleppo. As part of his proposal he calls for the recognition of the Local Council of Aleppo’s administration in eastern Aleppo.



Aleppo’s Local Council was founded in March 2013 to meet the needs of the area of Aleppo free of regime control. Members are elected through the general commission which includes representatives of borough councils and independent members. The term is one year.

The Local Council of Aleppo City provides water/waste management services, electricity supply services, rubbish collection, street cleaning, road maintenance, educational supplies and stationery, humanitarian aid, air raid shelters, and a burial service.

Before the siege, the council already faced all the difficulties of life under bombardment as well as the lack of a fixed budget, lack of heavy equipment, and lack of trained personnel. Even under siege, with shortages of food and fuel, the council continues to do all it can to maintain life and hope for Aleppo’s future.



Staffan de Mistura made clear in his recent interview with The Guardian that a military victory by the Assad regime will not bring peace but instead more instability and terrorism. Civil society initiatives like Aleppo Local Council are trying to build an alternative both to Assad’s failed state and to the terror state of ISIS, and we need to support them.

Local authorities in the UK can do their part to support Staffan de Mistura’s peace efforts, and to show support for besieged civilians in Aleppo including tens of thousands of children, by supporting Aleppo Local Council’s democratic project.

Metz, France, has a Charter of Friendship with the Local Council of Aleppo City. Now is the time for similar statements of support from UK local authorities.

The Charter of Friendship between the City of Metz, France, and the City of Aleppo, Syria, says:
“Lorraine and Metz experienced several conflicts in their turbulent history and suffered the humanitarian consequences: denial of rights, displacement of populations. It is with this history that the City of Metz decided to initiate a Charter of Friendship with The Civil Committee of the City of Aleppo, in Syria, at war today, but looking to reconstruction tomorrow.

“The aim of this Charter is to demonstrate our common desire to strengthen ties between the City of Aleppo and the City of Metz. It is not limited in time. It includes all citizens and structures present in a city and lays the foundation stone of a lasting friendship between our two councils.”

Please call on your local councillors to similarly extend friendship and support to the besieged people of Aleppo.

You can write to your local councillors via www.writetothem.com



Monday, 7 November 2016

Little Gandhi: the story of Ghiyath Matar



Little Gandhi: the story of Ghiyath Matar
Produced and directed by Sam Kadi

Film showing and talk hosted by Amnesty International and Rahma Relief Foundation.

Review by Mark Boothroyd

This documentary tells the story of Ghiyath Matar and the peaceful uprising of the city of Daraya in the suburbs of Damascus in 2011.

Daraya was the centre for peaceful protests in Damascus in 2011. It had a history of civic activism going back a decade; in 2003 civil society activists organised street cleaning exercises and public health and anti-corruption campaigns, and even organised demonstrations against the Iraq War, culminating in a silent demonstration to mark the fall of Baghdad to the American invasion. For these activities many activists were arrested and endured 2-3 years in prison.

The film documents, through interviews with activists inside Syria, and those forced into exile the story of Daraya’s uprising, and Ghiyath Matar’s role in it.

Although at the centre of the film, Ghiyath is never pictured; instead his comrades recount the beginning of the uprising, and how Ghiyath’s ideas of peaceful resistance to the Baathist tyranny were taken up and acted upon in Daraya.

The film is full of poignant moments as the exiled revolutionaries recount the days of the early protests, their first taste of freedom as they began to shout anti-government slogans for the first time and broke the barrier of fear that had been built around their minds.

Footage of the early protests is shown, and the activists explained how they wanted to keep the revolt peaceful as the best means to threaten the regime. This peaceful resistance was what the regime feared most, and Ghiyath was its champion. His friends recounted his fervent belief that the soldiers would not kill them as they were their fellow Syrians, and that their best hope was to appeal to them as Syrian brothers and fellow human beings.

Ghiyath was a key organiser of the tactic of holding roses on demonstrations, and of giving bottles of water to the police and soldier who come to repress the demonstrations. In the middle of summer 2011, many of the soldiers were thirsty and dehydrated and gladly accepted the water, although their commanders did their best to dissuade them from taking it by saying it was poisoned.

Usually the demonstrators would have to leave the bottles of water stood in the street for the soldiers to collect as they moved towards the protests. Activists would write notes and attach a rose to the bottle, sending messages of love and peace to them. On one occasion their protest accidentally marched into the ranks of the soldiers, and they were able to give the water bottles and flowers directly to them, infuriating their officers.

When the regime attempted to intimidate families from holding public funerals for murdered protestors, funerals which would inevitably themselves become protests, Ghiyath organised his activists to mobilise the local population so that tens of thousands of people marched to the homes of the victims to defy the regime’s intimidation.



Some of the most fascinating parts of the documentary are those filmed in besieged Daraya itself. Director Sam Kadi, speaking after the showing, outlined how they had recruited and trained a cameraman to film the scenes within the besieged area, and then arranged to have the film smuggled out to the US.

They had to smuggle the footage out of Daraya on thumb drives taped to the body of an activist who was escaping the siege. The thumb drives were smuggled to Damascus, then to Turkey then to LA where it was edited.

Motaz Morad and Muhammad Shihadeh, two of the original activists who worked with Ghiyath Daraya, and who remained behind in the siege, were interviewed in talking about how the ideas of Martin Luther King and the US civil rights movement influenced their work. As they talked, sniper fire could be heard in the background, interrupting their interview, a reminder of the regime’s constant attempts to wipe them out.

When the film footage reached the US, they found out the audio had been ruined by a strange humming noise. They thought it was broadcast by the regime on purpose to ruin any recording done within Daraya. In the end an editing studio agreed to do the cleaning up work for free when it learned what the content of the film was.

Hossam, a former resident of Daraya who attended the screening spoke about what made Daraya special:
“Daraya, what is special about Daraya? It’s the activists, the youth, they are very special, very humble and very dedicated to making a change in their country.
They were very dedicated to organising and structuring their work, so for instance you never see any abuse of human rights in Daraya. When it turned to militarise, they tried as much as possible to respect the law, so if they capture a soldier they never torture for instance.”
The regime’s response to Ghiyath and his comrades peaceful resistance was brutal. Peaceful activists were arrested and beaten and tortured, often to death. Activists took to living in outlying farms surrounding Daraya to escape the constant raids on the city by the security forces, only returning to organise and participate in protests. Eventually Ghiyath and another leading activists Yahya Shurbaji were lured back into the city and captured in a trap.

Several days later, Ghiyath’s horrifically tortured body was returned to his family. Yahya’s whereabouts are unknown, he has not been released nor had his body returned.

Najlaa Al-Sheikh, one of the women activists interviewed spoke about the anger felt by other peaceful activists when news of Ghiyath’s murder reached them. Although completely opposed to using violent means to overthrow the regime, the torture and murder of Ghiyath made them consider taking up arms against it, and drove many to support those groups already doing so.

When asked about the prospects for the future of Syria, Najlaa replied in a poetic fashion typical of many of the activists; “"We have sowed freedom and it will be reaped by our sons"

None of the activists believed the conflict would end soon, but they all felt that freedom would come to Syria, in time.

A poignant moment was brought to the discussion at the end, when a young Indian activist stood and talked about how the film had affected him. He mentioned how inspired he was by Ghiyath’s example, and that Ghiyath should not be known as ‘little Gandhi’, as that prevented linking his name with his actions, which deserved to be known in their own right. Instead he said, everyone should know Ghiyath Matar’s name so that he would have his own legacy and people would remember Ghiyath, not as a ‘little Gandhi’ but as an inspiring example of the Syrian revolution’s peaceful glory days, when everything seemed possible.

See all posts on Daraya.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Concern for the fate of Aleppo mounts as Russia promises to intensify military campaign

By Yasmine Nahlawi, Rethink Rebuild

“If you do not leave these areas urgently, you will be annihilated. You know that everyone has given up on you. They left you alone to face your doom and nobody will give you any help.”

Message dropped on residents of East Aleppo by Assad/Russia

As the world is focused upon the upcoming US elections, Syrian civilians and activists are gravely concerned regarding a predicted renewed Russian offensive on Aleppo, which has already borne the brunt of Russia’s brutality, including through its use of cluster munitions and bunker-busting missiles.

Syrian journalist Rami Jarrah issued an ‘Urgent Distress Call for Aleppo’ on 2 November in which he detailed that Russia has allegedly ‘notified anti-government rebels in besieged Eastern Aleppo to leave via two corridors between 9am and 7pm this Friday.’ Jarrah continued that ‘this can only mean that when the deadline comes the bombardment of Aleppo will see an escalation’.

In light of Russia’s apparent determination to continue its criminal and barbaric actions, we are calling upon policy makers and the media to ensure that Russian crimes continue to be exposed even as the world’s attention threatens to be diverted to the US elections.

Rethink Rebuild Society Advocacy Coordinator Dr. Haytham Alhamwi says, ‘The least we can ask is that the media report closely on the situation in Syria over the next week and to discuss the position of the two US presidential candidates with respect to their positions on Russia and Assad’s crimes in Syria. Policy makers should also continue to stress the importance of civilian protection in Syria so that Putin and Assad understand that the world is watching.’



Protest organised by The Syria Campaign and Syria Solidarity UK in front of the Russian embassy to highlight Russia’s criminal involvement in Syria.

In a street action on 3 November, The Syria Campaign and Syria Solidarity UK protested outside the Russian embassy to shift international attention towards Russia’s criminal actions in Syria (See images below). Two activists chained themselves to the Russian embassy’s gate while a display of over 800 mannequin limbs spilled out of the embassy’s front gates to symbolise Russia’s commission of war crimes in Syria.

One of these activists, in an email issued by The Syria Campaign, said, ‘We’re here because Russian warplanes are killing Syrian children in their beds. We’re here because doctors and rescue workers are being bombed for trying to save lives. We’re here because in eastern Aleppo, more than 800 people have been killed this past month alone.’

The street action was also covered via video by The Syria Campaign and can be seen here.


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.

For further information and press enquiries, please contact Yasmine at advocacy@rrsoc.org.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Today’s action at the Russian Embassy, London



Press release:

Peace activists blockade Russian Embassy in London to protest ‘annihilation’ of Aleppo

Campaigners demand action amid fears of major new offensive

London, 3rd November 2016 — A group of 25 peace activists have blockaded the front gate of the Russian Embassy in London in protest at the bombing of civilians in east Aleppo.

At 1400, 25 activists from two campaign groups The Syria Campaign and Syria Solidarity UK placed a structure made from white mannequin ‘limbs’ next to the front gate, while two others locked themselves to the gate itself.

Others scattered over 800 limbs around the gates, to symbolise the horrific impact of Russia’s use of cluster bombs and other banned weapons in the besieged city.

John Dunford from the Syria Campaign is one of those locked on. He said:
“We’re here because innocent children are being killed in their beds, while doctors are being bombed just for trying to save the lives of others. The Russian government and the Assad regime are committing these war crimes in Aleppo and things could be about to get even worse.

“We will not stand by and let this happen. This is a test of our shared humanity, a line we cannot cross. It shouldn’t be up to activists like me to say this – the UK government should be doing far more to protect the innocent and stand up against this barbarity.”

Police are on the scene but no arrests have yet been made.

The campaigners are calling on the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to increase the pressure on Russia, including by announcing new sanctions against Russian financial interests in the UK.

According to leaked intelligence briefings, Russia could be about to launch a major new assault on the embattled city as soon as this week. Warships and submarines have been sent to the region over the past few days, while leaflets dropped on residents have warned of ‘annihilation’ if they fail to surrender.

Amr Salahi from Syria Solidarity UK is also at the protest. He said:
“We have to stop the bombs. We have to stop the attacks on schools, on hospitals, on aid workers. We have to act now to stop Russia and the regime wilfully killing children, mothers and fathers, the deliberate starving of the old, the deliberate targeting of doctors and nurses.

“The Russian government claims to be fighting terror, but bombing aid trucks is not fighting terror. They are inflicting terror on Syria and on all of us, and we reject their propaganda.”

“The bombing of Aleppo is not just an attack on Syrians. It is an attack on humanitarian law. The Russian government and Assad are shredding international agreements and laws that exist for the protection of all of us. To save Syria is to save ourselves.”

ENDS

For interviews contact: media@thesyriacampaign.org

A more detailed briefing on the action can be found here
Photos and video:

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/fi08j6pcqy5acsz/AACBgek-ssKe7oZXZTtB3DlMa?dl=0

NOTES

827 people have been killed in besieged Aleppo, 140 of them children, since September 20th according to rescue workers from the Syria Civil Defence, or White Helmets.

Last week the UN aid chief Stephen O’Brien described himself as ‘incandescent with rage’ over the current situation in Syria. He cited a leaflet, dropped on the residents of Aleppo by Syrian regime aircraft, which warned that they faced ‘annihilation’ if they refused to surrender.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/10/27/russia-and-syria-accused-of-planning-the-annihilation-of-aleppo/

The Times newspaper reported on Monday that the Russian government was planning a major new assault on Aleppo, according to leaked intelligence documents. Since then, the Russian government has issued a new ultimatum to residents of Aleppo suggesting that a major assault could begin as soon as this weekend.

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/putin-set-to-launch-huge-attack-on-aleppo-ktrfqtq5r

Friday, 28 October 2016

UN’s Stephen O’Brien calls on UK and allies to act



On Wednesday the UN’s relief chief Stephen O’Brien called on individual Security Council members with military assets in Syria—a category that includes the UK—to act on civilian protection.

Below is our briefing on his remarks and their implications.

PDF version.

Briefing: UN relief chief calls on individual Security Council members with military assets in Syria—including the UK—to act on civilian protection.

Summary:
  • UN relief chief Stephen O’Brien has called on individual Security Council members to take concrete steps to stop aerial bombardment of civilian areas.
  • Military action to protect civilians in Syria is legal even without a further UN resolution.
  • The British public support action to protect civilians in Syria so long as it doesn’t endanger British military personnel.
  • A no-bomb zone would fulfil the practical, legal, and political requirements for action to protect civilians.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Rally for Aleppo



On Saturday at 12 noon, major UK charities are leading a rally for Aleppo at Downing Street.

This very important rally will call on the UK Government to protect civilians in Syria. We all need to add our voices.

Please come, and please bring your children to support the children of Aleppo. Please ask your child to bring a teddy bear for photos.

Please organise local events and share images with the hashtag #RallyForAleppo

Facebook Event Page

Below is a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May endorsed by several charities and NGOs. We are pleased to add our support. Add your name via the Amnesty website here.

Help 4Syria
Peace and Justice for Syria
Rethink Rebuild Society
Scotland 4 Syria
Syrian Association of Yorkshire
Syrian Community South West
Syrian Society of Nottinghamshire
Syria Solidarity UK
Syrian Welsh Society




Saturday, 15 October 2016

Briefing: How can a no-fly zone work?

Leading NGOs and Syrian activists are calling on the UK Government to protect civilians in Syria. We will be joining together outside Downing Street at noon on Saturday 22nd October to call on the UK to take action.

Read about Saturday’s Rally for Aleppo.

Facebook event page: #RallyForAleppo.

Read and sign the letter to Theresa May.



A YouGov poll in the UK has found that 64% of people in the UK support a No-Fly Zone to protect Aleppo’s civilians. France and Germany have similar solid majorities in favour of taking action to protect civilians in Syria.

But there continues to be a deal of confusion in media reports around the meaning of the terms no-fly zone, no-bomb zone, and safe area. Government responses have at times conflated the three, failing to properly address the more low risk options.

The following briefing sets out in simple terms what various options entail and explains why a no bomb zone is our preferred option.

How can a no-fly zone work? Web version.

How can a no-fly zone work? PDF version.

Single sheet PDF guide to a no bomb zone option.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Protest against Russian aggression in Syria and Ukraine

London Euromaidan and Syria Solidarity UK joined the global protest against Russian aggression and Putin’s criminal actions on Friday 14th October. We called upon the UK Government and the international community to confront Putin for his war crimes against the people of Syria, Ukraine and Georgia.

We urge the UK government to work with international allies to introduce a no-fly zone over Aleppo, as well as to apply a blanket freeze on assets of all Russian oligarchs, Russian government officials and their family members in the UK.

Below is our letter to the Prime Minister.

We call on the UK Government to:

  • Introduce a no-fly zone over Aleppo, Syria in partnership with international allies.
  • Freeze the assets of all Russian oligarchs, government officials and their families in the UK. 
  • Introduce further sanctions on Russian Federation, including suspension of the Russian banking system from SWIFT.    
  • Investigate the role of the Russian propaganda channel, RT (Russia Today), in promoting extremism, and ethnic hatred in the UK.  
  • Support the uninterrupted and comprehensive surveillance of the Ukrainian border with the Russian Federation by an international peacekeeping mission including extending OSCE monitoring of the border to 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  


We call on the Government of the Russian Federation to fully withdraw forces from Ukraine and Syria; to return all Russian military personnel, weapons and military equipment back to Russia; and to release all Ukrainian citizens who are illegally held in custody—both in Russia and in Crimea—on politically motivated and trumped-up charges.

We—the people and friends of Syria and Ukraine—want an end to Putin’s killings of civilians, including children, and humanitarian workers in Syria and the east of Ukraine.  We call on the British people to help us stop further loss of human life.  Please support our cause.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Save a school in Aleppo



Syria Solidarity UK have been directly involved in putting together the following emergency appeal. We know the people running the school in Aleppo and the people fundraising in the UK.

We have been in ongoing contact with people in Aleppo over several months. Even as they face the horror of constant bombing and the anxiety of increased food shortages, one of our key contacts has been working on funding for this school.

Established funders we have been speaking to won’t take it on because Aleppo is high risk and therefore falls outside their guidelines for funding. Being in besieged east Aleppo there is of course no safe school option for these children, but they still need an education as well as protection from bombs and food to eat.

Please support and share.

From the Just Giving page:

We at Human Care Syria have been approached with this urgent request from a school in East Aleppo. The school has run out of funds to continue operating and we have decided to take on the challenge of running the school and raising the funds necessary because we understand how critical the situation is.

Since the start of the Syrian crisis four million Syrian children are out of school and not receiving their basic human right to an education.

What does this mean for the community around East Aleppo?

This school is the only school in the area, serving 900 students (aged 5-14) in the community. If it shuts down the children will face the risk of traveling to another school, and traveling inside Aleppo is very dangerous at this present time! This will inevitably make parents keep their children at home. It will also mean a loss of jobs for teachers and maintenance staff.

One year’s running cost is £49,000 (covering 28 classrooms for a double shift school).

Give here: https://www.justgiving.com/campaigns/charity/hcfww/saveaschoolinaleppo

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Leaked Labour Briefing on Syria Shows Complete Disregard for Syrian Voices


Ahead of the emergency session on Syria in Parliament, a leaked document from the Labour Party shows that Labour is not learning from previous mistakes on Syria and not putting the protection of civilians as a priority. Syrian groups in the UK have been continually calling for civilian protection since the beginning of the Syrian regime's massacres of its own people.

The protection of civilians is a necessary prerequisite of any peace process in Syria. Syrian groups in the UK are urging the Labour Party and Labour MPs to correct their priorities on Syria and make protecting civilians the main priority of today's parliamentary session.

The leaked document can be seen here:

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Stop the war in Syria

Protect the Children of Aleppo: Stop the War in Syria

250,000 people live in East Aleppo, including an estimated 100,000 children. These people are not terrorists; they simply don’t want to live under a leader, Assad, who has killed, raped and tortured their kin.

On Wednesday the Syrian military warned these civilians to flee or meet their “inevitable fate.” Russian and Syrian airstrikes are targeting hospitals, schools, bakeries, and underground shelters. This policy of deliberately targeting civilians is a war crime that will cause trauma for generations.

The leaders of Britain, America, Russia, Iran, etc. have done nothing to protect Syria’s civilians; it falls to us who do care to organise and speak out on their behalf.

Please join us to call for an immediate end to the bombing in Aleppo and a properly enforced UN ceasefire.

Syria is the worst war of this decade, even of this bloody century so far.

What will you do to stop the war in Syria?

READ: Left activists call on Jeremy Corbyn to speak out on Syria

Below: Syria activists leafleting outside today's Stop The War conference in London.




Friday, 30 September 2016

Save Aleppo—How to take action



People around the world are demonstrating for Aleppo, Tweeting for Aleppo, posting on Facebook for Aleppo, or in the case of some politicians ‘expressing deep concern’ for Aleppo.

Worldwide protests for the weekend are listed here:

https://www.facebook.com/events/314393802256887/

In London tomorrow Saturday 1 October, protesters are gathering at Marble Arch at 12:30.

If we want action on Aleppo, we need to send a clear message, and just saying ‘Save Aleppo’ is not enough.

So if you are going on a protest, make a sign with a clear demand. Make your own sign so people can see you’ve thought about it.

If you can’t go on a protest, write to your MP. Writing to politicians sometimes feels hopeless, but a letter with a clear demand can count for a lot more than chanting on the street.

You can email your MP here:

https://www.writetothem.com/

You may feel your MP is not sympathetic. You can also write to the Foreign Secretary, the Rt. Hon. Boris Johnson MP, here:

fcocorrespondence@fco.gov.uk

You can write to Prime Minister Theresa May here:

https://email.number10.gov.uk/

What will you write on your protest sign? What will you say in the letter to your MP, or to the Foreign Secretary or Prime Minister?

Say exactly what you want to happen.

You could call for a No-Bombing Zone:
That means governments forcing an end to bombing by threatening the use of force against Assad’s military if it doesn’t stop. It doesn’t mean risking ground troops or fighting Russia; it means striking back only against Assad’s military, against runways and aircraft on the ground.

You could call for airdrops:
The UN only airdrops aid to Assad regime territory, and the regime won’t give them permission to airdrop aid to other areas. The UK, France, or US could do this. Call on the RAF to drop aid to people in Aleppo and other besieged areas.

You could call for aircraft tracking:
Use radar to track the aircraft bombing civilians, and name those responsible for each hospital bombing and each war crime. UK RAF and Royal Navy radar could do this. The US already tracks aircraft but keeps the data secret.Call on the UK to track aircraft and name and shame war criminals.

You could call for sanctions against Putin’s Russia:
Putin is bombing hospitals and schools. Putin’s bombs have killed more Syrian civilians than ISIS. Russian bombs are driving refugees out of Syria. So call for new sanctions. Call for Russia to be shut out of the SWIFT international bank payments system. The UK can do this with the EU.

You could call for sanctions against Iran:
The Guardian reports that Iran has massed 5,000 sectarian foreign militia fighters in Aleppo. Iran uses its airline companies Iran Air and Mahan Air to transport fighters to Syria. The UK and EU should block these airlines from using UK and EU airports.


For a more detailed look at these policy demands, please read our briefing, Aleppo Bombing: How to respond

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B8F_plxTZSOKX3lNbnNQOTVlWEk/view

Monday, 26 September 2016

Five weapons Putin and Assad are using in Aleppo


Photo: Injured being treated in Aleppo, 25 September 2016, via @HadiAlabdallah.

From a call with Aleppo local council yesterday

SyriaUK: How are you?

Aleppo Council: This situation is the worst we have ever seen, a never ending nightmare, shelling is non-stop throughout the night when there’s no electricity or lights, people are unable to sleep. We also get shelled in the day, but less frequently.

The bunker buster missiles used are causing massive shock waves; some buildings are collapsing without being targeted due to the effects of shock waves. These missiles are particularly designed to target underground shelters, so people have nowhere to hide. We woke up yesterday to a building that fell purely because of shock waves, forty people died.

To make matters worse, we are under siege, the markets are empty and we have nothing at all.

How can we help? What would you like us to do?

The whole world knows about what is going on in Aleppo, it is no secret. There was a special UN session about Aleppo today and world leaders kept rehashing the same lines. We know they do not care and will do nothing, but maybe if the general public are aware they would pressure their governments to do something. Make them aware how many types of bombs and missiles are being used against us. We are being shelled with five different types of bombs and missiles: napalm; phosphorous; cluster; barrel bombs; and bunker buster bombs.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

How to respond to Monday’s bombing of a Red Crescent aid convoy

SYRIAN GROUPS IN THE UK CALL FOR AIRCRAFT TRACKING, AIRDROPS, AND A NO-BOMBING ZONE

On Monday night an air attack by pro Assad forces destroyed a Red Crescent aid convoy and killed at least 12 people including Omar Barakat, Red Crescent director in Orem al-Kubra, Aleppo province.

The convoy had travelled from regime held territory into opposition territory so was known to the regime. A video released by the Russian Ministry of Defence prior to the attack appears to show that the aid convoy was under Russian drone surveillance at some point before it was hit by an airstrike.

Both Russia and the Assad regime have denied responsibility.

Today, Tuesday, the United Nations suspended all aid convoys across Syria, including to Madaya which has been denied food and medical aid for months, and is suffering an outbreak of meningitis.

Also on Monday, Assad regime 4th Division forces at checkpoints were accused of spoiling food aid for the besieged town of Moadamiyeh.

Monday’s aid delivery to besieged Talbiseh was followed by pro Assad air attacks that killed at least three people and injured fifteen.

The only area to receive UN aid today Tuesday was regime-held Deir Ezzor by World Food Programme airdrop. Deir Ezzor has received regular airdrops for months now (107 WFP airdrops up to 31 August) while no opposition held area has received a single one despite a UK-proposed and ISSG-agreed deadline of 1 June for airdrops and air bridges to several besieged communities.

The events around yesterday’s aid convoy bombing show the need for aircraft tracking, airdrops, and a no-bombing zone in Syria.

ON AIRCRAFT TRACKING, we have recently been briefing Foreign Office and DfID officials on this option. The UK has the ability to track flights from Assad regime and Russian air bases in Syria at a distance of 400 km. Tracking and publicly reporting aircraft responsible for attacks on civilians would begin to bring a measure of accountability for breaches of UN resolutions, and would help identify command responsibility for potential war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The need for this is clearly illustrated by Russian and Assad regime denials over yesterday’s aid convoy bombing.

ON AIRDROPS, the UK has the experience and the capacity to airdrop food and medical aid to besieged communities from its bases in Cyprus. The UK has the military might to deter attacks on its aircraft. Suitable partners on the ground are available through UOSSM, Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations, and others to coordinate drop zones and aid distribution.

ON A NO-BOMBING ZONE, it is approaching a year now since Jo Cox set out the case in Parliament for ‘deterring the indiscriminate aerial bombardment of civilians in Syria through the willingness to consider the prudent and limited use of force.’

A no-bombing zone does not require boots on the ground; does not require air patrols in Syrian airspace; does not require bombing Syrian air defences; does not require coming into armed conflict with Russia.

A no-bombing zone requires giving the Assad regime an ultimatum to stop air attacks against civilians, and then answering any subsequent air attacks with carefully targeted strikes against Assad regime military assets. It is a measured, proportionate proposal to save countless lives and open the door to peace.

We have heard the ‘no military solution’ mantra repeated about Syria for over five years. We need a political solution, but diplomacy without pressure has failed again and again to deliver a political solution, and all that time the Assad regime backed by Russia has continued military action against Syria’s civilian population, driving people to flee and destroying any hope for an inclusive political settlement.

It is time to learn from over five years of failure and act to end the killing in Syria.

Signatories
Syria Solidarity UK
Rethink Rebuild Society
Syrian Association of Yorkshire
Kurds House


LINKS

UN Aid Convoy Hit By Airstrike, Head Of Syrian Red Crescent Killed; Drone Footage Shows Convoy Before Attack

UN suspends aid convoys in Syria after hit, ICRC warns on impact

Homs: 15 killed, wounded in regime air strikes on Talbiseh

Syrian Arab Republic - 2016 UN Inter-Agency Operations as of 31 August 2016 (PDF)
Showing 107 World Food Programme airdrops to regime held Deir Ezzor and 82 World Food Programme airlifts to Quamishli, and zero airdrops or airlifts to opposition held areas under siege.

House of Commons adjournment debate on civilians in Syria, 12 October 2015


AIRCRAFT TRACKING



The UK has the ability to track flights from Assad regime and Russian air bases in Syria at a distance of 400 km. Tracking and publicly reporting aircraft responsible for attacks on civilians would begin to bring a measure of accountability for breaches of UN resolutions, and would help identify command responsibility for potential war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Read more (PDF)