Syria Solidarity UK  •  •  •  @SyriaUK

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Manchester Syrians shocked, appalled by horrific attack—Syrian doctors were among first-line responders

Rethink Rebuild Society

Manchester’s Syrian community unequivocally condemns the senseless and horrific attack which took place on 22 May in Manchester Arena. We are shocked that such a brutal act could be carried in our tolerant, open, and diverse city of Manchester, the city that welcomed us with open arms when we fled from Assad’s terrorism in Syria.

Manchester Syrian residents at the 23 May Manchester vigil in Albert Square.

At least six Syrian doctors (A&E, Orthopaedic, and General Surgery) from three hospitals in Manchester and Lancashire were among the front-line responders to the 22 May attack: Dr. Mohammed Almorie (A&E); Dr. Ahmad Khaled (Trauma and Orthopaedics); Dr. Mounir Hakimi (Orthopaedics); Dr. Ayman Jundi (A&E); and two other doctors who did not wish to be named (Orthopaedics and General Surgery).

Dr. Ahmad Khaled, Orthopaedics Registrar, was one of the front-line responders to this week’s attack. He said, ‘I received a call on Tuesday 2:30 am asking if I could come and help in assessing and treating those multiply injured patients as a result of the horrific attack. As a Syrian Doctor—most doctors will do the same—I felt that it was my duty to help in alleviating the significant pain of those casualties surgically alongside my colleagues from all backgrounds. My heart goes to all of those whom I have been involved in the care of as well as all other victims and their families.’

Dr. Mounir Hakimi, a British Syrian Orthopeadic Surgeon, will be operating on a victim of the Manchester attack in Lancashire. Dr. Hakimi is also the Chairman of the Board of Trustees at Syria Relief (a Manchester-based Syrian charity) and has travelled numerous times to Syria to treat victims of terror in the country. His reaction to the Manchester terror attack: ‘I have been treating shrapnel wounds in Syria for the past six years. I never imagined that I would one day be doing the same following an attack in the UK. As a Syrian doctor, it grieves me to see the immense physical and psychological traumas which result from such attacks and I grieve for all of the victims and their families, friends, loved ones, and communities.’

Dr. Yasmine Nahlawi, Research & Policy Coordinator at Rethink Rebuild Society, says on the attack: ‘We grieve for the loss of those killed in this week’s attack and our thoughts and prayers are with their families and loved ones. As Syrians we condemn all such attacks as violence can only breed more violence.’

Rethink Rebuild Society has established itself as a non-profit organisation that acts as an umbrella for the British Syrian community, and endeavours to clarify the Syrian cause to its audience in the UK and the wider public.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Libya and Syria, and the failure of the UN

Labour’s leader is drawing the wrong lessons on Libya and Syria, argues Clara Connolly

Jeremy Corbyn opened his recent Chatham House speech by recalling his youth, lived in the shadow of the Cold War. ‘I was haunted by images of civilians fleeing chemical weapons used by the United States,’ he said. I similarly recall these TV images of the Vietnam war—the great wake up call to our generation of rebellious youth.

He continued: ‘I didn’t imagine then that nearly fifty years later we would see chemical weapons still being used against innocent civilians. What an abject failure. How is it that history keeps repeating itself?’

But hold on—who’s been using the chemical weapons now? It’s not the United States, though you could easily assume that this is what he meant. No, history does not have the smooth arc over 50 years that he suggests, and the villains of 2013 or 2017 are not the same as those of the 1960s.

Jeremy Corbyn’s great theme is the interventionist wars of the West, especially of the US, with the UK trailing its coat tails: the era of ‘bomb first, talk later’ which he proposes to draw to a close with the advent of a Labour Government, ushering in a new era of international peace and cooperation under the auspices of the United Nations. It’s an attractive vista, to those with an imperfect grasp of recent history. I wish I could suspend my disbelief.

He says ‘the regime change wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria failed.’ I have no quarrel with him about Iraq, but I wonder what Libya and Syria are doing in that list?

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Track Syria air attacks. Publish the radar data.

On 19 September 2016, a UN inter agency aid convoy was attacked in Big Orem, Syria. Twenty aid workers were killed and the UN convoy was destroyed.

The Washington Post reported that US radar had tracked two SU-24 bombers in the area flying from Russia’s Khmeimim air base. The radar data was not released to the public.

When the Assad regime used chemical weapons to bomb the town of Khan Sheikhoun on 4 April 2017, the US did release tracking data. Radar data showed the bomber had flown from Assad’s al Shayrat air base.

Both Conservative and Labour MPs have called for the UK to publish radar data on attacks against civilians.

The UK has the capacity to track military aircraft across Syria.

The Royal Navy’s Type 45 Destroyers use S1850M long range radar, able to track up to 1,000 air targets at a range of around 400 km.

An RAF E-3D Sentry’s radar can scan distances of over 300 nautical miles. It can detect low-flying aircraft within 215 nmls (400 km).
  • Publish the radar tracking data.
  • Name those responsible for war crimes.
  • Sanction the violators.

See our single page leaflet explaining how the UK can track aircraft committing war crimes.

Read our proposals to protect civilians in Syria.

Ask your local candidates to support policies to protect civilians.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Election 2017

We invite candidates to consider these pledges to protect civilians and bring peace to Syria.

Please use this simple online form to ask your local candidates for their support.

You can also print the list of pledges to give to your local candidates.

Rethink Rebuild Society • Syrian Association of Yorkshire • Syria Solidarity UK • Kurds House • Syrian Community of the South West • Syrian Platform for Peace • Scotland4Syria • Syrian Welsh Society • Help 4Syria UK • Peace and Justice for Syria • Syria Society of Nottinghamshire

For more information contact

An election manifesto on Syria

PDF version

The international community has failed to protect civilians in Syria.

The Syrian conflict is still ongoing after more than six years. We have witnessed the gassing of children; the deliberate targeting of hospitals, schools, markets, and bakeries; the starvation sieges of civilian communities; the forced displacement of entire towns; and the drowning of refugees at sea.

If elected MP, I pledge to:

1. Affirm the democratic right of Syrians to choose their own future free from dictatorship and terror.
2. Call for the UK to track and publish details of military aircraft flights by the Assad regime and Russia that may be responsible for unlawful attacks on civilians.
3. Call for drone aid airdrops to besieged civilians to provide immediate relief and add pressure for full ground access.
4. Call for the UK to help enforce an end to attacks against civilian targets by the Assad regime and its allies.
5. Call for widened sanctions against the Assad regime and its supporters for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
6. Call for the UK to pursue all avenues to bring perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity to justice, including through universal jurisdiction as well as international legal mechanisms.
7. Call for the UK to pursue a ‘Uniting for Peace’ vote in the UN General assembly recommending action to protect civilians.
8. Demand the highest standards of accountability of all our Coalition partners for air strikes taking place in Syria.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Hospital bombings are also war crimes

On April 4th, after Assad’s pilots dropped chemical weapons on Khan Sheikhoun, they then bombed a nearby hospital that was treating the victims.

The Assad regime and Russia have a long-running strategy of attacking medical services.

During the 2016 joint Russia-regime attack on besieged Aleppo, there were 73 attacks on medical facilities and personnel recorded in the city.

Now hospital bombings are escalating again.
  • 17 April 2017: Hospital in Jabal al-Zawiya, Idlib, targeted by four airstrikes – five medics and one Syria Civil Defence volunteer injured – UOSSM and SCD reports.
  • 17 April 2017: Hospital in Damascus suburbs attacked killing one paramedic – UOSSM report.
  • 22 April 2017: Underground hospital in Abdeen, Idlib, hit by up to six ‘bunker buster’ bombs – Syria Civil Defence recovered remains of four killed and rescued six injured.
  • 25 April 2017: Hospital in Kafr Takharim, Idlib, bombed by Syrian or Russian aircraft.
  • 26 April 2017: Hospital in Daraa damaged in barrel bomb attack – dialysis unit destroyed – UOSSM report.
  • 26 April 2017: Latamneh hospital in Hama suburbs attacked – lab technician rescued from under rubble – UOSSM report.
  • 27 April 2017: Underground hospital in Maar Zeta bombed – Four paramedics killed while evacuating injured civilians – UOSSM report.
  • 27 April 2017: Hospital in Deir al-Sharqi bombed four times – three intensive care patients killed – Idlib Health Directorate report.
  • 28 April 2017: Maternity hospital in Kafr Takharim, Idlib province, damaged by at least two air strikes – Save The Children report.
  • 28 April 2017: Al Na’eema field hospital in Daraa province attacked.

Chemical attacks are war crimes.

Hospital bombings are also war crimes.

Protect Civilians: We need a fresh start for Syria.

UK Syrian organisations say action is needed to stop hospital attacks and protect civilians

PDF version

Russian and/or Syrian jets have again bombed hospitals in Syria culminating in a sharp rise in attacks on medical facilities. In the month of April alone, the following fourteen hospitals and medical centres have been attacked by Russian and Assad forces:

  • 2 April: Maarat Nouman Hospital, Idlib.
  • 4 April and 16 April: Al-Rahmeh Hospital in Khan Sheikhoun.
  • 4 April and 8 April: Heesh Clinic, Idlib province.
  • 17 April: Ikhlas Hospital in Shnan, Idlib.
  • 17 April: Erbin Hospital, Eastern Ghouta near Damascus.
  • 22 April: Central Hospital, Abdeen, Idlib province.
  • 25 April: Wasim Hasino hospital in Kafr Takharim, Idlib province.
  • 25 April: Dowaila Hospital in Kafr Takharim, Idlib province.
  • 26 April: Naseeb Hospital, Daraa.
  • 26 April: Al Latamneh Hospital, Hama.
  • 27 April: Al Dair Al-Sharqi Hospital, Idlib.
  • 27 April: SAMS Ambulances and Evacuation Medical Point, Maar Zeta, Idlib province.
  • 28 April: The maternity hospital in Kafr Takharim, Idlib province.
  • 28 April: Al Na’eema field hospital, Daraa province.

Russian and Assad jets are committing war crimes targeting medical personnel and facilities in Syria. It is beyond incomprehensible that medical facilities are targeted by one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council; a state which is considered part of the ‘civilised world’. The Syrian people have lost their faith in the UN which has been failing them for over six years. Security Council motions are repeatedly vetoed by Russia, and other members have failed to exert the required pressure on Russia to change its approach.

Destroying hospitals, targeting health care workers (over 700 have been killed so far in Syria in the last 6 years), killing patients on their bed sides and destroying humanitarian aid convoys are amongst the heinous war crimes perpetrated by Russian and Assad forces. This is not to mention the military and economic support that Russia continues provide to the Syrian regime as well as the diplomatic support in the UN.

The Syrian people feel that the so-called political solution has failed them. Russia is unable to play a positive role. It is in fact part of the problem with regards to the criminal Assad regime.

Urgent actions are needed as more war crimes are committed on the medical facilities in Syria. We demand the urgent protection of hospitals, health workers, civilians, and civilian infrastructure in Syria. If the UN Security Council is unable to overcome deadlock due to the abusive Russian vetoes, then the UK should pursue an emergency special session in the UN General Assembly through the ‘Uniting for Peace’ mechanism and should push for concrete recommendations for action to be made through the General Assembly. This should be in addition to the imposition of sanctions against Russia for its actions in Syria.

It is not acceptable to keep watching on as the slaughter against Syrian civilians continues in real time. Condemnations are not enough. Action is needed to enforce the protection of Syrian civilians and hospital facilities. Those who have committed war crimes must be brought to justice. Otherwise, history will remember our generation as one of failure.


Dr. Taghleb Alrahabi, Syrian British Medical Society
Dr. Sharif Kaf Al-Ghazal, Syrian Association of Yorkshire
Dr. Haytham Alhamwi, Rethink Rebuild Society
Dr. Amer Masri, Scotland4Syria
Dr. Fadel Moghrabi, Peace and Justice for Syria
Dr. Mohammad Alhadj Ali, Syrian Welsh Society
Dr. Mohammad Tammo, Kurds House
Clara Connolly, Syria Solidarity UK
Abdullah Alobwany, Oxford for Syria
Amjad Selo, Syrian Society of Nottinghamshire
Dr. Farouk Nahas, Syrian Solidarity Campaign
Dr. Abdullah Hanoun, Syrian Community in the South West
Reem Assil, Syrian Platform for Peace

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The broken chemical weapons deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

All Assad regime attacks on civilians need to be stopped.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

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

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

‘UK politicians need to show some seriousness.’

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

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

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

Monday, 17 April 2017

Syria Relief maternity hospital attacked by airstrikes

Syria Relief press release

PDF version.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Something is very wrong in the Coalition air war against ISIS

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

This year, that has changed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are all responsible for the consequences.

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

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Protect Civilians: We need a fresh start for Syria

In the past six years of the Syrian crisis, the UK has had plans for talks (and more talks), plans to contain the misery to the region (aid and more aid), plans to shut out refugees (more money for fences and less for rescues).

Plans to stop chemical weapons (but not barrel bombs, cluster bombs, firebombs).

Plans to fight ISIS (but not Assad who caused the crisis).

After six years, talks have produced nothing, the misery gets worse, refugee numbers keep rising, chemical weapons and every other weapon are still in use.

ISIS is still killing Syrians, along with Assad and Russia’s military, and their terrorist allies Hezbollah and Iranian forces.

UK policy on Syria is broken. We need a plan to protect civilians.

Please sign our new petition calling for change:

Protect Civilians: We need a fresh start for Syria
The UK’s failure to protect civilians is prolonging the war in Syria.
Failure to protect civilians worsens the refugee crisis.
Failure to protect civilians undermines the fight against terrorism.
UK policy on Syria needs a fresh start.

We call on the UK Government to bring forward a new plan to protect civilians in Syria and create an opportunity for peace.
Please add your signature.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Stop The War’s ongoing attempts to silence Syrian refugees

On Friday 7 April, Stop The War activists attempted to silence the voice of a Syrian refugee at their London protest by amplified chanting with megaphones.

Hassan Akkad is a survivor of Assad’s torture prisons. The vast majority of Syrian refugees have fled the Assad regime’s violence.

Stop The War has repeatedly shut out Syrian voices. It is time for public figures linked to Stop The War, such as Michael Rosen who has shown great concern for refugee rights, to now distance themselves from this bullying behaviour.

The Assad regime’s chemical attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun drew condemnation from across the world, but no major action from the Stop the War Coalition, which opposes any action including sanctions against the criminal Assad regime.

Stop the War says that it is against all UK and US military intervention in Syria. But when the US bombed Syrian civilians in the al Jina mosque in Aleppo province in March, where were the protests from Stop The War? When the Coalition bombed displaced people sheltering in al Badiya school, west of Raqqa, where were the protests from Stop The War? Now that Assad’s airfield is hit, they take to the streets. Their actions suggest that they have greater care for preserving Assad’s killing machine than for protecting civilians.

They say ‘Don’t Bomb Syria.’ It seems they really mean ‘Don’t bomb Assad.’

It is time for all honourable anti war campaigners to separate from Stop The War.

See also: Rethink Rebuild Society condemns ambivalence of ‘Stop the War’ to Assad’s war.

Below: Hassan Akkad talks of his experience of Stop The War.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Statement on the US airstrike on al Shayrat airfield from UK Syrian groups

PDF version.

Syrian groups welcome this action.

We wouldn’t start from here. The international community’s inaction over the past six years led to a position where Assad felt free to unleash the horrific chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun. President Trump himself was until now a cheerleader for acquiescence in Assad’s war crimes and cannot evade sharing responsibility for the permission the world has effectively granted to the regime’s murderous actions.

Shocking as the Khan Sheikhoun attack was, it was one more in a relentless and brutal war on the Syrian population that has killed almost half a million people and displaced around eleven million. While the use of chemical weapons induces a special revulsion, most civilians have been killed with conventional bombs and bullets. Following the 2013 chemical weapons deal, Assad escalated the barrel bombing of civilian areas, used with savage effect in the fall of Aleppo.

Nevertheless, Syrian opposition groups in the UK and internationally welcome the air strike as a precise and limited response to the particular horrors of the chemical attack. An action like this is the only way to slow down the killing, protect civilians and to push the Assad regime towards the conference table. Of course, had this happened in 2013, when the regime was at its weakest, it may have saved tens of thousands of lives. But the strike shows it is possible to stop Assad’s helicopters and jets. We now hope that it will be the first step towards a new resolve on the part of the international community to protect civilians and bring peace to Syria.

That should include:
  • Insisting the agreed ceasefire is fully adhered to by the Assad regime and Russia;
  • Taking all necessary steps, including the possibility of further precision air strikes, to ensure that Assad’s air force is grounded;
  • Insisting, backed by a full roster of potential sanctions, the regime and Russia credibly commit to achieving an overall political settlement with the opposition’s High Negotiations Committee.

We share the legitimate concerns that many will have about impulsive, unilateral actions on the part of a US government that has had no coherent policy for the region. We have been openly critical of the disregard for civilian casualties demonstrated by the Coalition’s recent bombing campaign, including air strikes in March against a school in Raqqa which killed at least 33  civilians. But there are very many people across Idlib, other parts of Syria and throughout the Syrian diaspora who have some hope today. We stand with them.

Abdullah Alobwany, Oxford for Syria
Reem Assil, Syrian Platform for Peace
Malcolm Allen, Syria Solidarity UK
Dr Mohammad Isreb, Syrian Association of Yorkshire
Dr Bachar Hakim, Syrian Society of Nottinghamshire
Dr Mohammad Alhadj Ali, Syrian Welsh Society
Dr Abdullah Hanoun, Syrian Community in the South West
Dr Fadel Moghrabi, Peace and Justice for Syria
Dr Peshang Abdulhannan, Kurds House
Dr Haytham Alhamwi, Rethink Rebuild Society

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Assad’s chemical attack: Mogherini has her answer

In the lead up to this week’s Brussels ‘Future of Syria’ conference, the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said that EU reconstruction planning can be ‘a dividend for peace’ to entice parties to compromise and begin a political transition.

This was a delusion. Assad’s Economy Minister Adib Mayaleh had already said in February that future reconstruction contracts would primarily go to Russian, Iranian, and Chinese companies. Assad’s minister said the regime didn’t want any European nations to invest in Syria unless they publicly apologised to the Syrian Government and changed their own leaders!

The Assad regime has destroyed its own cities and killed and tortured and starved hundreds of thousands to maintain power. Why would Assad now compromise for the promise of an EU handout when he is already backed by Russia and Iran?

But for EU officials slow in understanding, the chemical attack against civilians should provide a final answer.

Tuesday’s chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime on Khan Sheikhun in Idlib Province, Syria, was the deadliest since 2013. But it was only the most recent of many chemical attacks by Assad breaking the 2013 chemical weapons deal.

EU governments need to face the contempt shown to their efforts by Assad and his allies.

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

Here in the UK, Parliamentarians on all sides now need to look at the images of victims of this latest blatant crime against humanity; they must now face the cost of Parliament’s failure to hold Assad to account in 2013.

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

If Russia continues to shield the Assad regime at the UN, other permanent members of the UN Security Council including the UK must now take measures to end impunity. Assad is showing contempt for every international attempt at peace, contempt for the international community, contempt for international law, and contempt for all humanity.

Words are not enough. Shame is not enough. Act now to enforce existing UN resolutions and protect civilians.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

To the President and Vice President of the National Liberal Club

SEE UPDATE BELOW for response from the National Liberal Club.

PDF version.

To the Rt Hon. the Lord Beith, the Rt Hon. the Lord Steel of Aikwood KT KBE DL

5 April 2017

Dear Lord Beith and Lord Steel of Aikwood,

We write to you as President and Vice President of the National Liberal Club, to draw your attention to the Club’s hosting of a conference on 5th and 6th April, organised by EuroSCE and entitled ‘Syria: from destruction to reconstruction.’

Despite its academic veneer, and the participation of a number of your fellow peers (Lord Kinnock and Lord Desai have withdrawn their patronage) this is in fact a propaganda exercise for the Assad regime. We link here to a statement from Syrian organisations in the UK which clarifies its nature, and that of its main billed speakers.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Another Chemical Massacre in Syria

PDF version.

Earlier today, a chemical gas attack perpetrated by the Assad regime jets or its allies hit Khan Sheikhun in Idlib Province, Syria. The attack – the deadliest of its kind since 2013 – has resulted in the deaths of nearly 100 people and approximately 400 wounded (many of them are young children). Since the chemical massacre in Ghouta in 2013 where the regime had crossed a ‘red line’ it has orchestrated numerous chemical attacks with today’s being amongst the most fatal.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Syrian organisations object to pro-Assad conference in London

As UK-based Syrian organisations we wish to express our concern about the emergence of a new group, ‘The European Centre for the Study of Extremism, Cambridge’, which appears to exist primarily to spread propaganda for the Assad dictatorship.

The organisation’s founder, Makram Khoury-Machool, is a close friend of Assad’s former ambassador to the UK, Sami Khiyami. Khoury-Machool is a former lecturer at the University of Cambridge and has a profile on Churchill College’s website. He appears keen to use the group’s presence in Cambridge and its connections to members of the University to promote it as a legitimate entity.

On 5th-6th April ‘EuroCSE’ will hold a conference on Syria at an undisclosed location in Westminster. While majority of the ‘distinguished speakers’ advertised in the promotional materials hold pro-regime views, several have direct links to the regime and its allies, such as:
  • Ali Haidar, a minister of the Assad dictatorship. He is the Syrian general secretary of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, a group which runs a militia with between 6,000 and 8,000 members currently fighting on behalf of the war criminal Assad.
  • Bishr Riyad Yaziji, the Syrian minister for tourism. He is most famous for being responsible for the disgusting advertising campaign which promoted Syria as a land of pleasure and plenty at a time when around one million people were suffering under starvation sieges (the vast majority of which were imposed, and continue to be imposed, by the Assad regime and its terrorist ally, Hezbollah).
  • Hamid Baeidinejad, the Iranian Ambassador to the UK. The Iranian regime is responsible for war crimes committed in Syria, most recently during the brutal assault on Aleppo in which Iranian troops played a major role.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Letter to the Prime Minister on the Al Badiya school bombing

Syrian organisations in the UK have today written to the Prime Minister calling for the UK to investigate reports of Coalition responsibility for civilian deaths in al Badiya, and to review the priority the Coalition is giving to civilian protection.

PDF version here.

The Right Honourable Theresa May
Prime Minister
10 Downing Street
London SW1A 2AA

24 March 2017

Dear Ms May,
We were writing this letter about recent incidents in Syria when the shocking events at Westminster occurred, and we wanted before anything else to share the sense of grief and outrage felt across the community.

Without diminishing the tragedy of this event, especially for its victims, it also acts to strengthen our parallel concern for the loss of life arising from certain actions in Syria for which we feel the British government shares some responsibility. There are now credible reports of a Coalition airstrike on the al Badiya school, west of Raqqa, a shelter for many refugee families, with probably at least 50 civilians killed (mainly women and children) with many sources estimating significantly more.

This seems to be part of an emerging pattern of conspicuous disregard for civilian casualties in the current military campaign against ISIS. It includes the attack on the al Jina mosque last week that killed at least 50 civilians, and such incidents seem to be growing. The monitoring group Airwars estimates at least 2,700 innocent men, women and children have been killed in the Coalition’s anti-ISIS bombing campaign thus far.

We are writing to ask the British government to immediately investigate the responsibility for al Badiya, and for similar attacks, to make known its findings and, more broadly, to review the priority the Coalition is giving to civilian protection.

While many of these attacks are conducted by US forces, the UK is a major partner in the Coalition, with a British officer as deputy commander, and therefore carries joint responsibility for such actions. Moreover, we note that the Ministry of Defense has acknowledged that the RAF is conducting bombing operations in the Raqqa area.

We share the all-important aim of ridding Syria of the barbaric ISIS regime along with supporting the democratic opposition to the no less brutal Assad regime. But, unlike such regimes, we must not be indifferent to civilian lives and suffering; those who have lived under ISIS have suffered enough.

We urge the government to demand from the US the halt of the unacceptable loss of civilian life, which is in danger of becoming a distinguishing mark of this campaign.

Yours sincerely,

Fadel Moghrabi, Peace and Justice in Syria
Yasmine Nahlawi, Rethink Rebuild, Manchester
Dr Sharif Kaf–al Ghazal, Syrian Association of Yorkshire
Malcolm Allen, Syria Solidarity UK
Dr Mohammad Alhadj Ali, Syrian Welsh Society
Mazen Ejbaei, Help 4Syria
Dr Amer Masri, Scotland For Syria
Abdullah Hanoun, Syrian Community in the South West
Reem Assil, Syrian Platform for Peace
Dr Bachar Hakim, Syrian Society of Nottinghamshire

Top photo via Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently.

Reply from Tobias Ellwood MP, Minister for the Middle East and Africa

26 April 2017

Dear Syria Solidarity UK,

Thank you for your letter of 24 March to the Prime Minister, about Syria. I am replying as Minister responsible for our relations with the Middle East.

Thank you for your message of condolence following the terrorist attack in London on 22 March. I appreciate your support.

All members of the Coalition do their utmost to minimise the risk of civilian casualties. Reports are taken very seriously and the results of any investigation are published. In the air strikes conducted by the RAF as part of the Coalition air campaign, we have found no evidence of civilian casualties.

We have a comprehensive strategy to defeat Daesh, working as part of the 68 member Global Coalition, in which we continue to play a leading role. The UK, as part of the US led Coalition, remains committed to the counter-Daesh campaign. But we are clear that defeating Daesh will need more than just a military effort. For there to be a genuine peace, Syria needs a transition to a new, inclusive, non-sectarian government. This is critical to being able to sustainably address the terrorist threat.

We remain convinced that long-term peace in Syria requires transition away from the Asad regime, and a political settlement which allows Syria to become a stable, peaceful state with an inclusive government with which we can work to tackle Daesh and other extremists. We support fully the Syrian peace talks taking place under the auspices of UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura in Geneva. The Syrian High Negotiations Committee have demonstrated their commitment tothe political process by adopting a positive approach, agreeing an inclusive delegation and setting out moderate and pragmatic proposals. The regime and its backers must now show the same commitment to achieving a negotiated solution that can bring a sustainable end to this dreadful conflict.

The UK will continue to do all that we can to ensure that a long-term, lasting solution is found to resolve the current crisis in Syria. And in the meantime, we will maintain all efforts to help those people affected by it.

Yours sincerely,
Tobias Ellwood MP
Minister for the Middle East and Africa

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Six years after Syria’s revolution, we must not turn away

Six years ago, thousands of Syrians took to the streets to protest the brutal Assad regime. The Assad family had kept power for four decades through repression, imprisonment, torture, and mass killing. The people who protested knew what they were up against, remembering how the regime had slaughtered tens of thousands in Hama in 1982. In 2011 the regime even tortured children who dared write anti-regime graffiti on a wall in Daraa.

People knew, and still they took their lives in their hands, marching, singing, dancing in the streets. Videos of those first protests look incredible now, the buildings intact, the streets filled with humanity. Today’s images are the reverse. Humanity driven out. Cities, towns, homes crushed.

The slogan of regime thugs was ‘Assad or we burn the country.’ They have. In the past, the regime had sponsored terrorism to destabilise neighbouring countries. From 2011 it turned the same strategy against the opposition. Peaceful protesters were jailed while jihadist veterans of the Assad-sponsored terror campaign in Iraq were released, and pro regime ‘Shabiha’ gangs carried out sectarian massacres to deliberately drive communities apart.

Al Qaeda in Iraq had been a longtime client of Assad’s. In 2013-2014, it rebranded as ISIS and moved against the Syrian opposition, aided by Assad’s air force which targeted the opposition but not ISIS.

The scale of Bashar al-Assad’s brutality outstripped that of his father, bombing and shelling city after city, killing hundreds of civilians with nerve agent and chlorine. But this was not enough to defeat the revolution. To survive, Assad invited in Hezbollah, then Iranian military forces, sectarian militia from Iraq, and even Afghans recruited by Iran. By 2015 Assad teetered on the edge of collapse.

It took direct intervention by Putin to keep Assad in place. Russia’s air force bombed not only the armed opposition but systematically targeted hospitals, schools, bakeries, water facilities. Now in 2017 Assad is in hock to Shabiha warlords, to Iran, and to Russia. He rules from a position of weakness over a patchwork of competing interests that between them control the biggest population centres, but only a minority of the territory of Syria.

Opposition-held territory is still under daily attack, despite a ceasefire announced by Russia and Turkey in December. In regime-controlled territory detentions continue, and thousands upon thousands remain hidden in Assad’s torture prisons. For Syrians who have fled, return to either bombing or torture is not an option.

The UK Government has never backed any serious proposal to protect civilians in Syria. Even the abortive proposal for action after the Ghouta chemical massacre focused not on protecting civilians but on punishing the use of just one category of weapon. Calls for a no-fly zone or no-bomb zone were locked by Western leaders who didn’t want any responsibility for what would come after. In the name of ‘stability’ the regime was given license to murder.

When the House of Commons voted against action in 2013, too many people here saw that as the end of the story and turned away. Then the number of Syrian refugees registered in the region was 1.84 million. Today it is close to five million. The various counts of numbers killed outstrip the capacity of our imagination. Half a million or more people are estimated killed, but the fracturing of control makes a reliable total impossible. The Syrian Network for Human Rights has counted a minimum of 206,932 confirmed violent civilian deaths.

Throughout 2016, Syria Solidarity UK and others campaigned for humanitarian air drops to besieged civilians. Behind the scenes at least some in the Foreign Office and elsewhere tried to make this happen. Serious proposals were developed to use existing drone technology at relatively low cost and at no risk to UK personnel, but these ideas were blocked. It seems the Ministry of Defence is more interested in spending money on developing new drones to kill rather than on drones to save lives.

In 2017, UK diplomats are still saying the right things, still supporting the Syrian opposition in negotiations that are supposed to lead to inclusive representative legitimate government. And DFID continues to provide humanitarian support in the region to victims of the war. But in Syria now it is military action that determines political and humanitarian outcomes. Current negotiations seem even more of a sideshow than previous efforts, and the UK’s humanitarian effort continues to be a costly attempt to contain the damage while doing nothing to bring it to an end.

While the Foreign Office and DFID present the best face of UK policy, the Ministry of Defence falls in line with a US policy that targets only ISIS and seems happy to hand territory over to Assad, Hezbollah, and Russia, with no regard for the consequences. Unless there is now a serious plan to achieve legitimate inclusive government in areas liberated from ISIS, unless the Assad regime is prevented from regaining more territory, unless there is a serious plan to protect civilians, the result will be to entrench the misery of the refugee crisis and to strengthen extremism.

This year we must not turn away.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

The truth about the White Helmets.

By Flora Bain

Last week Syria was centre stage, not on the news channels for once, but at Hollywood’s biggest event of the year. The Oscar for best short documentary was awarded to The White Helmets, a film showing the heroism of Syria’s volunteer rescuers. The film’s director Orlando von Einsiedel read out a message from Raed Saleh, head of Syria Civil Defence: Their work, he said, is guided by the verse in the Qur’an ‘To save one life is to save all of humanity,’ and he called for peace in Syria. Celebrities rose to their feet in recognition of his call.

In response, Russia’s Embassy to the UK posted this cartoon on their Twitter account. At first I thought it must be a hoax—the real Russian Embassy tweeting this image? The creator of this image Iad Tawil (who describes himself as ‘a secular Syrian’) has playing into the most pernicious stereotypes of his fellow countrymen. Using nakedly racist imagery, the cartoon depicts a thick lipped man, shaggy beard trailing down his chest, a suicide vest beneath an camouflage shirt. On his head is a white helmet, in his hand a shiny Oscar statuette shrinks away from him.

Who would want to attack the White Helmets? To date they have saved over 82,000 lives. Formed as self organised groups of volunteer rescuers in late 2012 in areas that were independent of the regime, these volunteer first responders joined together as Syrian Civil Defence in 2014. Numbering 3,000 people, they are ordinary men (and some 70 women) who risk their lives to help others. These are the people that run towards the burning buildings, the ones lifting rubble with their hands to reach buried children, who they are sometimes able to rescue alive.

Yet people do attack them. The best way to understand this might be to ask who is doing the attacks? And what’s in it for them?

The cartoon is just the tip of the iceberg of the vast quantity of propaganda directed against Syria Civil Defence rescuers. On the night of the Oscars, the first media outlet to post in any depth about the award was Russia Today—or ‘RT’ as they have been rebranded—an outlet funded by the Russian state. They had obviously prepared. The headline? ‘Film about Syrian White Helmets Wins Oscar Amid Allegations of Terrorist Ties’. These allegations come from Russia and from the Syrian Regime.

The term post-truth is used to imply that the truth does not exist, but the truth is still there, it’s just that people are less confident about where to find it, and the trolls are ready to exploit this. Using images and strategies straight out of the propagandists handbook, they repeat lies until they acquire a veneer of truth.

One of the favourite smears of the many propaganda sites and Russian paid trolls is the accusation that the White Helmets are connected to Al Qaeda. They cite their presence in areas in which the Al Qaeda linked Al Nusra Front is present to imply this connection. The White Helmets operate with a policy of neutrality (which has included rescuing regime soldiers) and consequently work in areas controlled by many different groups.

The second favourite smear is that they are Western dupes—by receiving financial support from the US, UK and others they are unwitting pawns in the Western imperialist war. What is most striking is that the accusation itself shows a Western imperialist and racist attitude, unable to imagine that Syrians might think and act for themselves. While the UK should be ashamed of its failure to act against the Assad regime’s killing of civilians, giving practical support to the support the courageous work of the White Helmets (such as equipment donated by London Fire Brigade) is something to be proud of.

So we get to the why. Both these smears play to the advantage of the Assad regime and Russia. The White Helmets are a threat to them. By showing humanity and bravery, the White Helmets prove daily that there is a better alternative to the Assad regime’s savagery. The White Helmets have a media unit to communicate and record their work and through recording their work, people also see the abuses—bombing, chemical weapon use, phosphorus, that have been perpetrated by the Assad regime and Russia upon Syrian people.

In the simplest terms, the White Helmets are also a practical obstacle. They are trying to save the very lives that the Assad regime is trying to control and extinguish, and so the regime treats them as a target. On the same day the Oscar was awarded another Syria Civil Defence centre was hit by aerial bombardment in Idlib. To date 154 volunteers have died in their work.

Syria Civil Defence rescuers are also vulnerable to persecution by the regime. In the evacuation of Aleppo, White Helmets volunteer Abdulhadi Kamel was abducted by pro regime forces, and a forced confession was broadcast. Amnesty International and the White Helmets are campaigning for his release.

We talk of post truth but ultimately the truth must be heard. This is precisely why the documentary, and the award of the Oscar was such a threat to the regime and Russia. Watch the film, follow the White Helmets, and tell people you know about their heroism and about the need for peace in Syria, because that’s what the propaganda cannot be allowed to hide.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Beeley, Assad, and ISIS

By Brian Slocock

Britain’s leading publicist for the Assad regime, Vanessa Beeley, whose recent Bristol meeting we reported on last week, is capping her tour of the UK with a meeting in London on Wednesday. This particular event has some particularly bizarre features.

For one thing, it is taking place in the Marx Memorial Library, a hallowed institution of the British left based in a building that has been host to London Radical and Socialist organisations since the 1870s (both William Morris and Lenin worked there.

Beeley on the other hand swims in rather different waters. In her time she has been hosted by various conspiracy gatherings and sites from an intertwined nexus that includes Alternative View, UK Column, and 21st Century Wire. All of these groups are somewhere on the libertarian right and she has eventually found a permanent home as Associate Editor at 21st Century Wire. This site was created in 2009 as a climate-change denying project, linked to the US InfoWars, and is currently supporting Donald Trump, and providing apologetics for his Islamophobic travel ban.

But the bizarreness of Beeley’s meeting does not end with this incongruous coupling of venue and political alignment. The principal host of her meeting is an organisation called Socialist Fight (SF). Their view on Syria was defined some years ago:
‘We are for an Anti-Imperialist United Front with Assad. We demand that Assad arms the working class and call for the enlisting of all the people in the army against the mercenaries and Imperialism. But we do not support Assad.’
Despite the final qualification, I guess Beeley could live with that. However SF also has a rather equivocal position on the Islamic State (ISIS). Initially it decided that ISIS was a tool of US imperialism and should be opposed accordingly. But at some point it seems to have shifted its evaluation, and in its most recent statement of What We Stand For says:
‘Whilst giving no political support to the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Sunni and Shia militias in Iraq, Hamas or Fatah in Palestine, Gaddafi (as was) in Libya, Assad in Syria, the ‘Islamic State’ in Syria and Iraq, the theocratic regime in Iran or the Donbass leadership in Eastern Ukraine we recognise US-led world imperialism as the main enemy of humanity and so advocate critical support and tactical military assistance from the working class to all those fighting for the defeat of imperialism.’
Now that is a rather convoluted sentence but it’s hard to construe it as anything other than a call for ‘critical support and tactical military assistance’ to ISIS. Given that Beeley and friends tend to label anyone who says ‘boo’ to Bashar-al Assad as an ISIS supporter, it’s difficult to see how she can swallow that.

On second thought, perhaps it won’t be so difficult: SF considers its main enemy to be the Free Syrian Army, just as Assad did in 2013 when ISIS took over Raqqa, as the diary of an anti-ISIS activist inside the city, published in Sunday’s Observer, makes clear:
‘I will never forget the time when Daesh [ISIS] first appeared on the streets of our city. At first, opposition forces surrounded the fighters who occupied the government buildings. We were optimistic. But then everything changed. The Free Syrian Army began to weaken … Its soldiers were hit by repeated government air strikes. Daesh fought back, broke the FSA’s siege and quickly took over our helpless city.’
Vanessa Beeley finds the ISIS terrorist label a useful smear to use against her critics, but the history is that Assad and ISIS acted in concert against the Free Syrian Army, and that earlier Assad’s security forces helped build up Al Qaeda in Iraq, and that now Assad depends on Hezbollah, Iran and Russia to maintain power in Damascus.

We should support those Syrians who struggle for a Syria free of foreign domination and free of terrorism. Beeley does not.

Image from the 2014 Kesh Malek campaign: Assad + ISIS = #SameShit.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Beeley in Bristol

By Clara Connolly

  • Lionised by the Morning Star newspaper, Assad apologist Vanessa Beeley denied hospital bombings in Aleppo and smeared White Helmets rescue volunteers.
  • Beeley addressed an ultra-Stalinist cult meeting in Bristol, ridiculing Syrian health workers.
  • When a Syria Solidarity UK member questioned Beeley on hospital bombings, he was put in a chokehold by meeting organisers and ejected.

On 17 February Vanessa Beeley, associate editor of 21st Century Wire and a frequent guest of the far right conspiracy blog InfoWars, gave an illustrated talk in Bristol, billed as a challenge to mainstream media reporting of Syria, particularly of the fall of Aleppo. Four members of Syria Solidarity UK—including myself—went along to join Bristol members who were leafleting the meeting outside.

The hosts were ‘Bristol Open Inquiry into the Bombing of Syria,’ a CPGB-ML front aiming to ‘end sanctions on Syria; stop arming terrorists.’ The CPGB–ML (Communist Party of Great Britain–Marxist Leninist) is an ultra-Stalinist cult, expelled from Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party, and from Stop the War Coalition, for openly supporting Assad and Ghaddafi.

The meeting was attended by 70-90 people, not necessarily CPGB–ML members or supporters. According to the people around me, many had been informed about the event by STWC. Beeley was introduced by Mehraz Shahabi, an open supporter of the Iranian regime, who passionately defended Syrian ‘sovereignty’ against imperialism.

Vanessa Beeley spoke for a full two and a half hours on her recent trips to Aleppo as a self-styled independent journalist. She presented video clips which she claimed were interviews with escapees from the ‘jihadist prison’ of East Aleppo, taken mainly around the Jebrin Registration Centre from 14 December onwards. She did not explain how she obtained access, nor who her interpreters were, nor why the interviews were conducted in public. They were vox-pop snippets on the street, with the interviewees praising the Syrian Arab Army for giving them food and denouncing jihadists for giving them none. There were no detailed or in depth interviews—they needed extensive commentary from Beeley to yield the sense she wanted. But to someone uninformed about Syria, or willing to view mainstream coverage of Aleppo as propaganda to support an imperialist project of regime change, they could be effective.

Monday, 6 February 2017

These drones could drop medical and food aid to thousands of besieged civilians in Syria. But Theresa May says ‘No.’

  • Theresa May told NGOs that drone airdrops of aid couldn’t be done.
  • Viable options for drone airdrops have been available for over a year.

In Rwanda, drones are right now being used for fast airdrop delivery of blood supplies. And in the UK, the APPG Friends of Syria has revealed that options for drone airdrops of food for Syria have been available for over a year. Yet as recently as December, Theresa May wrote to NGOs claiming that drone airdrops of aid were impractical.

Existing models of drones provide readily available means to bring aid to besieged civilians, and at no risk to UK personnel. MPs should now demand answers as to why the UK Government flatly refuses to even try using drones to save the lives of Syrian civilians under siege.

Rwanda’s new delivery system for blood products uses fixed wing drones that are launched from a catapult and follow a pre-programmed course to drop a small package from low altitude into an area the size of two parking spaces. These Zipline drones carry a light load (1.5kg of blood) but higher capacity and longer range drones suitable for airdrops in Syria were identified over a year ago.

Airbridge Aviation, an Oxford-based British company, conducted an extensive comparison of options in January 2016 and selected the Arcturus T-20 as the most capable unmanned aircraft for humanitarian airdrops in Syria. The T-20 is a well-established UAV first developed in 2009 and used by the Mexican Navy and the Turkish government. It has a maximum range of 900 kilometres, carries a payload of 36 kilograms and has a proven airdrop capability. Like the Zipline drone used in Rwanda, the T-20 also launches from a catapult and doesn’t need a runway.

Using nine T-20 drones flying twelve hours a day at 50 nautical miles range (about 90 kilometres, or the distance from the Jordanian border to the suburbs of Damascus) Airbridge Aviation write that they could deliver around 1,800kg of aid per day, feeding 1,675 people their full nutritional needs.

All of this can be done without putting UK air crews at risk.

We earlier reported on JPADS, another option for airdropping aid cross border into Syria without UK aircraft entering Syrian airspace. These are GPS-guided parachutes that can fly 25 kilometres from where they’re released to a pre-programmed precise landing spot. The World Food Programme confirmed to us that they had used JPADS about 25 times to drop medical aid to regime held Deir Ezzor. The WFP has never airdropped aid to communities besieged by Assad or Hezbollah because they refuse to act without regime consent.

It is shameful that the UK and other states militarily engaged in Syria have effectively stood by as Assad and his backers have besieged, starved, and forcefully displaced entire communities. It is shameful that the UK and others have not used the means available to relieve the suffering of civilians subjected to this deliberate cruelty.

Airdrops in themselves won’t end the sieges. They won’t stop Hezbollah and Assad forces shelling and bombing besieged communities. But they can bring an end to the Assad regime’s veto on humanitarian aid. They can give civilians some relief and save at least some lives. And they would show that the UK is willing to match fine words of concern with at least some concrete action.

Madaya, a short distance from the Lebanese border, is one of the many communities still under siege in Syria. It could easily be reached by JPADS or by drones.

It is now over a year since Jo Cox and others first called for the Government to seriously consider humanitarian airdrops to people trapped in Madaya. As images of starving children led to mounting public pressure, the Assad regime and its Hezbollah allies let some aid into the town, but only some.

Currently Madaya has been without aid deliveries for over two months, despite the promises of the ceasefire declared by Russia and Turkey in December, despite multiple UN security council resolutions, despite years of negotiations by UN agencies with the Assad regime.

Even when the Assad regime has let UN aid through, these convoys have been intermittent and subject to severe restrictions.

In the period covered by the latest Siege Watch report, one UN interagency aid convoy managed to reach Madaya and Zabadani on 25th September. The shipment included basic food supplies and non-essential medical items, but lacked necessary goods such as fuel, critical medical supplies, protein, baby milk, and salt. Mirna Yacoub, deputy representative for UNICEF in Syria, who was part of the aid convoy, told the BBC that while there wasn’t the level of starvation seen in January, ‘they are malnourished, there is a severe lack of vitamins, they don’t have protein.’

Siege Watch reported that 27 kidney failure patients were trapped in Madaya by the end of October, unable to receive dialysis due to lack of supplies. Highly contagious bacterial meningitis is also widespread and there are no infant vaccines available.

In November, at least four children died of malnutrition related causes. At the end of November, some aid was let in, but has since again been blocked by Hezbollah and the regime.

Airdrops of medical and food aid to Madaya and other besieged areas can save lives.

We know—Syrians know—that the UK has the ability to act, so let there be no more shameful excuses.

Videos: BBC report on Zipline drones delivering blood supplies in Rwanda, and Arcturus video showing their T-20 drone.

Monday, 30 January 2017

UK Syrian Community Protests Trump’s Muslim Ban

Rethink Rebuild Society

The UK Syrian community unequivocally condemns US President Trump’s recently announced executive order which places a ban on individuals from seven majority Muslim countries—including Syria—from travelling to the United States in what has been termed his Muslim ban. This ban also puts an indefinite halt to the US’s Syrian refugee resettlement programme.

This executive order is not only discriminatory, but it also alienates and stigmatises entire sections of the US and world populations at a time when it becomes more and more imperative that communities stand together in solidarity to address global threats including the Syrian refugee crisis and the threat of terrorism.

We fear that this executive order will have a reverse effect of fuelling hate and inciting terrorism in the UK and across the world, as we have already seen by the terrorist shooting at a Canadian mosque on 29 January which killed six worshippers and injured an additional eight. Such potential ramifications were stressed by US Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham who argued in a joint statement that Trump’s Muslim ban could ‘become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism.’

We are also concerned about the repercussions that Trump’s Muslim ban will have against Syrian refugees who fled the Syrian conflict under the worst imaginable conditions – arbitrary arrest, torture, constant bombardment, and relentless siege. This group deserves compassion and assistance from Western countries, not to mention that many have fled from the very terrorism which Trump has vowed to eradicate. We call upon the UK to echo the stand of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau by welcoming Syrian refugees banned by the US into the UK.

Amid this nightmare inflicted upon the Syrian and other communities in the UK and abroad, the British Syrian community is disheartened at the UK Government’s embarrassingly absent response. Although Trump’s executive order clearly clashes with purported British values of inclusion, diversity, and equality, Prime Minister Theresa May has yet to offer a formal condemnation of this discriminatory policy, and furthermore refused to call out Trump’s divisive rhetoric in her joint press conference with him on Friday. We therefore call upon the Government to offer a formal protest against Trump’s Muslim ban and to denounce it as discriminatory and counterproductive to the fight against terror. We furthermore endorse the petition asking the UK Government to rescind the official invitation for Trump to visit Her Majesty the Queen until his administration lifts this discriminatory policy.

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.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

A distress call from Wadi Barada civil society organisations

  • The communities of Wadi Barada have been under violent attack by Hezbollah and the Assad regime for over a month.
  • Lebanese Hezbollah terrorists are trying to force out the local Syrian population.
  • Wadi Barada’s civilians are in dire need of food and medicine.
  • Wadi Barada could be reached by JPADS airdrops using GPS guided parachutes without aircraft having to enter Syrian airspace.
  • The World Food Programme has used JPADS elsewhere in Syria but both the WFP and the UK refuse to help Wadi Barada.
  • Theresa May dismissed MPs’ calls for airdrops as impractical but didn’t say the WFP was already using JPADS elsewhere in Syria.

Read more: World Food Programme used JPADS for Deir Ezzor aid drops

We have received the following distress call from civil society organisations in Wadi Barada:

For the 33rd day running, Assad regime forces, Hezbollah, and other militias have been attacking Wadi Barada despite a proclaimed ceasefire in Syria, which was announced on 30th December 2016. The human and material cost has been terrible.

200 people have been killed as a result of the military attack, 60% of them women and children.

400 people have been injured. 150 of these are in need of urgent medical evacuation.

45,000 people have lost their homes following intense bombardment of residential areas by the regime and its allied militias.

All hospitals and medical centres are inoperational after they were directly attacked by the regime and its allies. Two medical staff have been killed and six injured as a result of these attacks.

The Civil Defence system is also out of service, after all its operational centres and equipment were destroyed because of deliberate targeting.

There is a great deal of destruction throughout the villages of Wadi Barada, particularly Basimah and Ain al-Fijeh.

80,000 people are suffering as a result of continuous bombardment and siege. Food supplies are now so meagre that people eat only one small meal a day. Sometimes this meal only consists of one apple. Families have been forced to slaughter whatever livestock they possess for food. There is now a severe shortage of children’s milk. The situation is getting worse because the regime and militia checkpoints which completely surround Wadi Barada have not allowed any food in for a month and not allowed medicine in for over four months. If the military assault continues and the regime and its allies continue with this policy, this could well lead to starvation.

 There is now an almost total lack of medicine, especially medicines to treat chronic conditions often suffered by older people, such as diabetes, heart disease, blood pressure, and blood disease. More than 20 people have died as a result of the lack of these medicines. The regime and its allies do not allow people to be evacuated from Wadi Barada for medical treatment.

Following the regime’s bombardment of the Ain el-Fijeh water plant, the water supply cannot be purified and is now polluted and people have contracted diseases from drinking impure water. Dozens of people now suffer from symptoms such as diarrhoea and vomiting.  As a result of the destruction of homes, people have taken shelter in mosques, halls, and other spaces, and this has led to overcrowding and this has exacerbated the situation, further spreading disease. Infants are especially at risk. Two new-borns have died as a result of the inability of medical staff to provide adequate care and jaundice has spread among infants due to trauma and fear.

Due to the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe, we declare the whole of Wadi Barada a disaster area and we call on all humanitarian organizations, human rights organizations, the UN Security Council, the UN General Assembly, and the international community to urgently intervene to save the civilians trapped in Wadi Barada, who are at the mercy of the rockets and mortars of the Assad regime and its allies and who are now facing the threat of disease and starvation.

Relief Corps in Wadi Barada • Medical in Wadi Barada • Media Corps in Wadi Barada • Local Council in Wadi Barada • Civil Defence in Wadi Barada • Institution of Barada Al Kheir • Institution of Ghouth Barada

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Confirmed: World Food Programme used JPADS for Deir Ezzor aid drops

  • These GPS guided parachutes can fly 25km to a precise landing point.
  • UK refuses to use JPADS airdrops system to aid civilians under attack from Hezbollah and Assad.

The World Food Programme’s representative for Syria, Jakob Kern, has confirmed that the agency has used FireFly JPADS for aid airdrops to Deir Ezzor. Around 25 JPADS parachutes have been used to drop mostly medical aid to the regime held town which is besieged by ISIS.

JPADS airdrops form just part of the WFP effort: overall the World Food Programme has made 177 air drops in nine months to Deir Ezzor. The World Food Programme has never made a single aid drop to any territory besieged by the Assad regime or its Iranian-backed ally Hezbollah. The vast majority of besieged areas are under siege from the regime.

The particular advantage with JPADS is that the system uses GPS navigation to remotely guide the parachute to a precise landing point. The drop can be made by planes at a standoff distance 25 kilometres away from the impact point, and at an altitude of 24,500 feet above sea level, high enough to be safe from MANPADS surface to air missiles. This means that JPADS could be used to drop aid to areas besieged by Hezbollah by planes flying outside Syrian airspace.

Last year, NGOs pressed for JPADS to be used to drop aid to besieged civilians in Aleppo City. The proposal was for aid to be dropped from RAF or NATO planes flying beyond regime controlled territory; the JPADS parachutes would then have flown under remote GPS guidance the final 25 kilometres to three designated landing points in Aleppo city.

In a December letter to NGOs, Prime Minister Theresa May contrived to ignore this fully viable safe option for helping civilians and for countering Hezbollah and Assad’s forced removal of populations.

The UK’s failure to deploy this available technology for the relief of besieged civilians helped speed their forced displacement from Aleppo city.

Assad and Hezbollah are now doing the same again in areas between Damascus and the Lebanon border, forcing out Sunni majority populations in order to replace them with people supportive of Hezbollah, Assad, and Iran. Western inaction on this is worsening the refugee crisis, and contributing to the entrenchment of Hezbollah—a proscribed terrorist organisation—across a wide portion of Syrian territory.

Theresa May’s refusal to act makes the UK complicit in Hezbollah’s campaign of ethnic cleansing in Syria.

Earlier: GPS guided parachutes are being used for arms drops in Syria – but the UK refuses to use them for aid drops.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

GPS guided parachutes are being used for arms drops in Syria – but the UK refuses to use them for aid drops

  • For a year now, the UK Government has rejected calls for airdrops saying they are too dangerous and too difficult.
  • Safe options for airdrops are being ignored by Government ministers.
  • Technology for precision airdrops that would allow aircrews to safely drop guided parachutes from beyond Syrian airspace is already being used by UK allies in Syria—but these GPS guided parachutes are being used to drop arms, not aid.

A year has gone by since Jo Cox in the House of Commons first voiced the call for humanitarian airdrops to besieged Syrian communities. Back then it was images of clearly starving children in the town of Madaya that stirred MPs to speak out.

In the year since, the UK Government has been presented with a range of options for airdropping aid to Syrians under siege at little or no risk to British aircrews.

One option presented to the UK Government in the last year has been a detailed costed proposal for airdrops using existing drone technology. Another has been airdrops using precision JPADS technology which would allow some besieged areas to be reached by remotely guided parachutes dropped from outside Syrian airspace.

This week, USA Today reports on how these GPS guided parachutes are already being used by the Coalition against ISIS to drop arms to local allies inside Syria.

Gen. Carlton Everhart told USA Today of the US Air Force’s ‘expanded precision airdrop capability.’ The Air Force conducted 16 airdrop missions in Syria last year, including six in December.

The airdrop missions have changed dramatically since previous wars, such as Vietnam, when pallets would be easily blown off target, sometimes landing within reach of the enemy.

Today, the bundles are guided onto landing zones using GPS technology and steerable parachutes. ‘We'll get it within 10 or 15 meters of the mark,’ Everhart said. The supplies range from small arms ammunition to vehicles.

The Air Force can drop supplies at night and vary where they are dropped to ensure militants are not able to seize US equipment.

A leading manufacturer of JPADS technology describes how their system allows parachutes to be dropped from a standoff distance 25 kilometres away from the target and then remotely guided to the impact point using GPS navigation.

This ability to drop from a distance means besieged areas like Madaya—one year later still under siege by Hezbollah and Assad forces—could be reached by airdrops without aircraft ever having to enter Syrian airspace.

Over 140,000 people recently signed a petition calling on the UK to drop aid to besieged Syrian communities. The Government rejected the call and the Petitions Committee rejected a debate.

In a December 2016 letter on airdrops, Prime Minister Theresa May rejected them primarily on the grounds that aircraft would be risking attack by Russia. In words repeated in the Government’s rejection of the public petition, she then asserted that the same risk applied to unmanned options. Clearly this is nonsense. No aircrew lives are at risk if unmanned drones are used for airdrops, and if planes drop GPS guided parachutes from outside Syrian airspace, there can be no legitimate grounds for Russia to attack.

The UK Government set out two aims for its Syria strategy when MPs voted for action in December 2015: To defeat terrorism in Syria, and to end the refugee crisis. Today the Government is sitting on its hands while a proscribed terrorist organisation, Hezbollah, besieges Syrian civilians with the aim of driving entire communities from their homes. Continued UK inaction on relief to besieged communities will further empower and entrench terrorism, and further worsen the refugee crisis.

End the excuses. Drop aid to besieged Syrian communities now.


US increasing airdrops of supplies to forces battling ISIL in Syria, USA Today, 17 January 2017.

Can JPADS save lives in Syria? APPG Friends of Syria, 13 January 2017.

Air-drop life saving aid into the starving cities in Syria, petition to the UK Government.

Photo: FireFly guided precision aerial delivery system by Airborne Systems.