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Thursday, 3 August 2017

Syrian groups complain that other countries are hijacking UN peace talks

Read the Guardian report by Patrick Wintour here.

Full letter below.

PDF version.

Mr. Staffan de Mistura
United Nations Special Envoy for Syria
CC:
UN Secretary General
Members of the UN Security Council
Envoys of the International Syria Support Group
EU Ambassadors to the Political and Security Committee

2 August 2017


Your Excellency,
Following the seventh round of peace negotiations, we write to you on behalf of the undersigned Syrian civil society organisations who work every day under unbearable circumstances to improve the living conditions of millions of Syrians. We represent the voices from the ground and our work across the country in the fields of medical and humanitarian assistance, education, freedom of expression, youth and women empowerment, and accountability and justice proves again the fundamental role Syrian civil society plays as a champion for a democratic and inclusive Syria.

As a vital resource for the Syrian population trapped between a tyrannical regime and the brutality of extremism, Syrian civil society organisations strongly support any efforts to bring an end to the Syria conflict. This is why many of our representatives have participated in the intra-Syrian peace talks within the framework of the Civil Society Support Room and have been active in supporting the Geneva peace talks between the Syrian opposition and the Syrian regime.

Sadly, the Geneva process has delivered neither peace nor protection to the Syrian people who are increasingly disillusioned with a process that continues to fail them. We are keen to reverse this trend as without the support of Syrian civil society no political deal will be either sustainable or legitimate, and right now the current process is losing our support. Syrian civil society’s priority is to achieve an inclusive transition to a free and democratic Syria. We are all united around this outcome which defines the basis of the Geneva peace process as set out by UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and as reiterated in your mandate as UN Special Envoy for Syria.

We expect all parties in Geneva—including you—to work for this purpose and engage in serious negotiations. The time consumed on discussions around process and representation, at the expense of a credible and realistic political deal for transition towards democracy, is not only wasting precious time but it is also undermining the international community’s efforts to fight terrorism in Syria. Syrian civil society activities are essential in the fight against extremism. Moderate voices—as we represent—have the power to push back against the extremist forces and fill the vacuum on the ground. But to be able to do so, we need the international community to protect our ability to assist and serve our people. This is why we need the Geneva process to prioritise the protection of civilians and deliver meaningful negotiations that lead to peace for Syria.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

On the loss of Bassel Khartabil Safadi



By Families for Freedom

It’s with deep sorrow that we learned last night of the execution of Bassel Khartabil Safadi. Bassel was a hero to the members of our movement, to many communities around the world and to all Syrians. But we also knew him as someone else—Noura’s husband. He was the disappeared love of a co-founder of our movement. We watched her fight to free him, we listened to her talk about their deep love and the beautiful moments they shared. We stand in solidarity with you our dearest Noura. Noura your loss today is a loss for all Syria, for all mothers, fathers, husbands, wives and brothers and sisters. It’s a loss for every Syrian family.

Bassel was a free soul who worked to bring change to his country and we, along your side, will continue his journey. Bassel will remain a role model for our children and grandchildren. Like all of our missing loved ones, he was a believer in peace, education and innovation as the only means by which Syria can be rebuilt. Unfortunately, in Syria it is these very people that are the ones who are being taken away from us. We will carry their beliefs that change can only happen by these means, and through dialogue and peaceful activism and not through violence.

Last night was a difficult night for us and many other Syrian families with loved ones who are detained or disappeared. Fear and sadness gripped our hearts with your news and we felt as if our wounds had been reopened.

When we last met you said ‘We should not give up.’ Stay strong Noura. Continue to be Noura that we know, an advocate for the freedom of all detainees. Your positive spirit and laughs has kept us going at very difficult times and you are vital to our movement and to our cause. We were dreaming of the day when we could celebrate with you and Bassel and with all our loved ones around. Today we mourn with you. It’s our right to do so. Then we will continue.

First posted on the Families for Freedom Facebook page.

See also:
Families for Freedom campaign for the release of people detained in Syria, including their own family members:
We are Syrian families demanding freedom for all the country’s sons and daughters. These demands are not just for our own families, but for every Syrian family with a detainee. Our position is against enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention by the Syrian regime and all parties to the conflict. We want to mobilise the public to pressure all sides to comply with our demands. We will continue to expand our collective effort to include the largest number of families, regardless of their affiliations.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Airdrops for Raqqa: The UK has a responsibility to thousands of civilians trapped without food or water



Between 10,000 and 50,000 civilians are trapped in Raqqa without food or fresh water.

Food access in Raqqa is now at ‘a critical turning point,’ aid organisations said Monday.

The assault on the ISIS-held city is a joint operation by the International Coalition and their partners on the ground, the SDF.

The UK is a leading member of the Coalition. The Coalition, including the UK have a responsibility to do all they can to protect civilians caught in the fighting.

The UK should organise RAF airdrops of food and water to trapped civilians NOW.

On 23 July, Maj. Gen. Rupert Jones, British deputy commander of the coalition, told reporters in Ain Issa north of Raqqa that ‘it is really important as Raqqa is liberated that all sides focus on the protection of civilians.’

Protecting civilians is both a moral imperative and also a strategic necessity in order to defeat extremist ideologyof ISIS and Al Qaeda.

On 11 January and again on 22 February, Secretary of State for International Development Priti Patel told the House of Commons that the Government was ‘examining all options for getting aid into besieged areas in Syria,’ including the possibility of using drones to deliver aid directly.

In Raqqa the siege is being imposed by the Coalition, not Assad, and the UK’s responsibility to act is unquestionable.

Government ministers directly concerned with Syria such as Tobias Ellwood and Alistair Burt are proud of the UK’s record on Syria aid, amounting to a commitment of over £2.46 billion. In Raqqa however, the UK has a direct role in the circumstances of people’s suffering and has the capacity through airdrops to provide direct relief.

Will the Coalition and the UK Government in particular now live up to their responsibilities?

The choices they make now will be remembered by Syrians for a long time to come.

Background

The UN estimates 20,000 to 50,000 people remain inside Raqqa city.

REACH Initiative estimates between 10,000 and 25,000 civilians remain trapped.

Since the start of the International Coalition’s final assault on the ISIS-held city, many thousands have escaped, despite ISIS minefields and Coalition air attacks. Hundreds of civilians have been killed or wounded by artillery and air attacks.

According to REACH Initiative, the many thousands of civilians still trapped now rely entirely on whatever food stores they have saved. Refrigerators don’t work because there is little or no electricity. Bread is no longer available anywhere in Raqqa city.

Residents can no longer access water from the Euphrates River because of the tightening siege. Residents rely almost exclusively on neighbourhood boreholes, many of which have been dug recently. These produce limited amounts of water due to insufficient electricity to run boring machines and water pumps. The water produced is also reportedly not fit for drinking, according to REACH.

Médecins Sans Frontières report that ‘large numbers of sick and wounded people are trapped inside Raqqa city with little or no access to medical care and scant chance of escaping the city.’

According to REACH,  informal clinics set up by civilians and not staffed by professionals are reportedly operating in a very limited capacity in the central neighbourhoods of Raqqa. They  have only the most basic of medical supplies.

Airstrikes and reduction in critical supplies are the greatest threats to the safety and well-being of those remaining in Raqqa, REACH reports. Monitoring organisation Airwars estimates that at least 340 civilians in Raqqa were likely killed by Coalition strikes and artillery in June. As many as 119 children were among those killed since June 6th.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Syria’s Disappeared: UK screenings



We are organising a series of screenings across the UK of the film Syria’s Disappeared: The case against Assad.

This documentary tells the hidden story of tens of thousands of men, women and children disappeared by the regime of Bashar al Assad into a network of clandestine detention centres.

The film weaves together powerful personal stories of three Syrians with evidence gathered from regime documents smuggled out of Syria.

With unprecedented access, we follow survivors of detention, families of detainees, regime defectors and international war crimes investigators as they fight to bring the perpetrators to justice and desperately campaign for the release of the disappeared.

Cancellation
In solidarity with staff of the Picturehouse cinema chain we are cancelling Friday’s screening of Syria’s Disappeared, scheduled for 28 July 6.30pm at the Hackney Attic, London.

Picturehouse staff are campaigning for the voluntary living wage. Union organisers have been sacked, and campaigners have called for a boycott of the Picturehouse chain.

This screening was planned as one of a series we are arranging in the UK. Our next scheduled screening is on 9 September, 3.30pm at The Electric Palace Cinema, Hastings.

We would very much welcome offers of other venues in London and across the UK to show this very important document of some of the crimes of the Assad regime.


Upcoming screenings, with more to be announced:

The Electric Palace Cinema, Hastings
9 September, 3.30pm
Electric Palace Cinema, 39a High Street, Hastings TN34 3ER
In association with Syria Solidarity UK
Booking details

The Heath Citizens Centre, Cardiff
16 September, time to be confirmed
The Heath Citizens Centre, off King George V Drive, Cardiff CF14 4EP
In association with the Syrian Welsh Society


Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The mistreatment of Syrian refugees in Lebanon

We are increasingly worried about threats to Syrian refugees in Lebanon after the deaths of four Syrians in custody of the Lebanese Army.

Read more about the case:

Lebanese authorities have banned public protests over the deaths:

The following letter has been signed by several Syrian community groups in the UK. We invite further signatures from UK refugee and human rights groups.

PDF version.

The mistreatment of Syrian refugees in Lebanon

To:
The Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
The Rt Hon Priti Patel MP, Secretary of State for International Development
The Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon MP, Secretary of State for Defence
H.E Ambassador Inaam Osseiran


We are writing to you to express our grave concerns over the mistreatment of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Late last month, the Lebanese authorities began a campaign of persecution against Syrian refugees in the country. On 30 June, the Lebanese army raided the Arsal refugee camp, arresting 400 refugees at random. A few days later the bodies of at least three of those refugees were returned to their families. They had reportedly been tortured to death by the Lebanese army.

One of the dead was a Syrian nurse and anaesthetist, Anas al-Husaiki, who had previously treated casualties of the war inside Syria. Human Rights Watch has called for ‘a formal, transparent and independent investigation’ of the deaths. Reuters has subsequently reported that a Lebanese military prosecutor ordered forensics to examine the bodies of four Syrians who died in army custody. The Syrian National Coalition has said as many as ten people died in custody.

The rest of the refugees detained in Arsal refugee camp are still in Lebanese prisons. Lawyer Fahd Al-Mousa has said that they are now ‘undergoing the worst forms of torture’ by Lebanese security forces. According to some reports, around 5,000 Syrian men and women are imprisoned in Lebanon either by the Lebanese government or Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia fighting alongside the Assad regime in Syria.

Syrians believe the Lebanese government wants to keep quiet its crimes against refugees in Lebanon. It seems that Lebanese authorities have adopted a policy of intimidating and terrifying Syrian refugees, forcing them back to Assad-regime held areas of Syria where they face an uncertain fate. Only public pressure from around the world can bring a halt to these actions.

The UK is spending millions helping train the Lebanese army, with £15 million for border guard training and £4.5 million for general training announced last year.

The UK’s Secretary of State for International Development Priti Patel visited Lebanon earlier this year, meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and touring Syrian refugee camps. She also reaffirmed that the UK will continue to invest £160 millions over four years in education in Lebanon.

The Lebanese authorities’ latest actions against Syrian refugees seriously cast doubt on their suitability to be direct recipients of UK aid and military support.

The international community must work to ensure to the safety and protection of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. We call on the UK government to urgently raise the issue of the detention, torture, and killing of Syrian refugees with the Lebanese government.

Syrian refugees detained in Lebanon must be charged or released immediately and the International Committee of the Red Cross and international human rights organisations should be able to visit them and monitor the conditions of their detention.

There should be an independent international investigation into the reported torture and killing of these refugees, and those responsible must be held to account.

Amr Salahi, Syria Solidarity UK
Dr Haytham Alhamwi, Rethink Rebuild Society
Mazen Ejbaei, Help 4Syria
Reem Assil, Syrian Platform for Peace
Dr Amer Masri, Scotland4Syria
Dr Bachar Hakim, Syrian Society of Nottinghamshire
Dr Mohammad Alhadj Ali, Syrian Welsh Society
Dr Abdullah Hanoun, Syrian Community South West
Dr Fadel Moghrabi, Peace and Justice for Syria
Ros Ereira, Solidarity with Refugees

Thursday, 29 June 2017

On David Davis, and understanding the Syrian regime

Early last year David Davis travelled to Damascus along with fellow MP Adam Holloway. They had a meeting with Assad, Syria’s dictator. Assad gave David Davis an Excel spreadsheet of 783 people the regime was targeting for assassination. In a new article for the Times Literary Supplement, Clive Stafford Smith writes that David Davis was ‘horrified’ by the list.

Assad’s assassination target list contained 82 Westerners, including 26 UK citizens.

When he returned, David Davis wrote an article about the trip for Conservative Home. That article didn’t mention the meeting with Assad, or the 26 UK citizens that Assad wanted to kill. He had discussed the meeting in an earlier interview with Andrew Marr, but without mentioning the kill list.

The Telegraph reported on the kill list in June 2016, but without any new comment from Mr Davis. According to the Telegraph, some of the people named as targets were already dead. Several names on the list were known terrorists, but not all.

From The Telegraph’s report:
The Assad ‘kill list’ will provoke outrage over its inclusion at number four of a junior British doctor killed after president Bashar al-Assad’s forces shelled the hospital he was working in. Isa Abdur Rahman, 26, died in may 2013 in a mortar attack on a hospital in Idlib province.

Dr Rahman had left his position with the Royal free Hospital in north London to volunteer with a British charity working in Syria. At the time, Islamic State had still to get a grip on rebel-held areas.

Dr Rahman had flown to Syria in 2012, helping civilians in areas caught up in the bitter civil war between forces loyal to Assad and opposition fighters. Dr Rahman was buried in Atmeh, a village close to the Turkish border, where he had helped to set up a clinic after first arriving in Syria.

He subsequently moved to a field hospital in Idlib which was where he was working when it came under attack and he was killed. There is no justification for Dr Rahman being included on a list that includes the likes of ‘Jihadi John’ and other British jihadi terrorists.


The Syrian Social Nationalist Party’s militia.

In his Conservative Home article, David Davis was clear on the threat of extremist jihadists, but less clear in his understanding of some figures in the Assad regime. Mr Davis portrayed Assad’s Minister of State for Reconciliation, Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) leader Ali Heidar, as amongst Syria’s ‘glimmers of hope.’ He described the SSNP as an opposition party. It is a Nazi-like party with long ties to the regime and a history of terrorism. Haidar is subject to EU and UK sanctions.

See: Dr ALI HEIDAR, a.k.a: (1) HAIDAR, Ali (2) HAYDAR, Ali (3) HEYDAR, Ali. State Minister for National Reconciliation Affairs. Listed on: 16/10/2012.

Ali Haidar has made clear that he doesn’t believe in a negotiated solution, but in a solution ‘through the military triumph of the state.’ His SSNP party claims to have 8,000 militia members fighting in support of the Assad regime in Syria. The Reconciliation Minister’s SSNP refers to opponents of the Assad regime as the ‘internal Jews’.

David Davis also wrote of meeting Syria’s Grand Mufti, Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun, who he relied on to confirm the truth of what he was told as he toured regime-held Syria. Mr Davis said the Mufti would not be party to deception as he is the nearest thing to ‘a Moslem Archbishop of Canterbury.’

Not only has the Grand Mufti been shown to be a dishonest regime propagandist, he has also threatened the West with terrorism, and is implicated in mass executions.

Why did David Davis’s article not mention Assad and his threat to kill UK citizens, and why was it so complimentary to both the SSNP leader and Grand Mufti Hassoun?

In his article David Davis made a series of recommendations on Syria. One was to pressure external backers, not of the regime but of the opposition. Comparing regime backers Iran and Russia with opposition backers Saudi Arabia and Turkey, David Davis said Saudi Arabia and Turkey were ‘particularly disgraceful.’ He dismissed the idea of ‘so-called “moderates”’ in the opposition.

David Davis went on to suggest that the UK and US should engage with the Syrian regime, and offer massive investment, ‘a Marshall Plan for Syria,’ as an incentive, suggesting this would give leverage allowing the UK to ‘insist on the Syrian government cleaning up its police state activities.’

Whatever Mr Davis’s negotiating skills elsewhere, he is wrong here. No one with a clear understanding of the Assad regime’s dependence on mass violence to survive would imagine that they can be bribed into giving up mass incarceration and mass murder. Their survival depends on maintaining their reign of terror.

If mention now of David Davis being horrified by Assad’s kill list means that he has become more clear-eyed about the Assad regime, then that is welcome. But it is disturbing that even after he received the kill list from Assad, he continued to be so credulous of key regime figures as shown in his Conservative Home article. All UK ministers need now to be under no illusions as to the ruthlessness of the Syrian regime and its backers.

Friday, 23 June 2017

France must deliver on its commitment to the Syrian people

Via Save Our Syria

The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) urges French President Emmanuel Macron to protect the Syrian people against all indiscriminate and unlawful attacks, and take action—including airdrops—to ensure immediate humanitarian access. Doing so is the best way to ensure the defeat of terrorism.

‘Europe will never be secure until the root cause of the conflict is addressed—Assad’s calculated brutality against innocent civilians,’ said SNHR Chairman Fadel Abdul Ghany. ‘The Assad regime is overwhelmingly responsible for the relentless aerial bombardment, torture, disappearances, besiegement, and forced displacement that has created the conditions in which terrorism can thrive. A war criminal cannot be a partner in peace.’

‘The ultimate partner—for both peace and the defeat of terrorism are civilians: we will implement any peace deal; and we are the ones that have ousted ISIS during pauses in bombardment. We need permanent protection from Assad's bombardment to push ISIS out for good.’

SNHR’s research shows that over 92% of all civilian deaths since March 2011 were caused by the Assad regime not ISIS or other terror groups.

​‘Millions of Syrians are counting on President Macron to deliver on the red lines he declared in May – to impose consequences for the indiscriminate use of weapons against civilians and to take all necessary measures such as airdrops to ensure humanitarian access to besieged communities across Syria. France must be prepared to act unilaterally if joint international action is not possible,’ Mr Abdul Ghany continued.

‘Whether he uses barrel bombs, chemical weapons, starvation or torture, Assad’s actions are war crimes. If chemical weapons are unacceptable to France, then Assad must also be,’ Mr Abdul Ghany concluded.


Founded in 2011, the Syrian Network for Human Rights is an independent, non-partisan, non-governmental, non-profit organisation, documenting human rights violations in Syria. Find out more at sn4hr.org

Save Our Syria (SOS) is a platform for Syrian civil society and humanitarian groups to pursue Syrian-led solutions to the Syrian crisis. Find out more at www.saveoursyria.org

Friday, 16 June 2017

Jo Cox’s compassion on Syria had no borders—nor should ours

By Dr Yasmine Nahlawi, Dr Mohammad Isreb and Kellie Strom

First published by the i paper

Today marks the first anniversary of the murder of Jo Cox, who was a great friend, a beautiful soul, and a true humanitarian.

While the entire country grieves for Jo, for Syrians in the UK her death represents a double blow.

In Jo we lost a voice for tolerance and inclusion, a voice to counter racism and xenophobia.

Syrian refugees particularly appreciated her strong compassion, which lives on in the Jo Cox Foundation’s support for Hope Not Hate, and in the Great Get Together events marking this anniversary.

But for Jo, supporting refugees was not enough. She also wanted to help those Syrians still inside Syria, the ones unable to escape.

• Supporting Syrians

She supported Syria Civil Defence, the rescuers known as the White Helmets. In parliament, Jo made one central demand: protect civilians. She didn’t just sympathise with Syrians, she fought for their rights with relentless passion.

Many on both the left and the right are content with the UK’s role in accepting refugees, delivering humanitarian aid, and fighting only ISIS.

But Jo understood that the refugee crisis, the humanitarian crisis, and the terrorism threat all stemmed from a single atrocity: Bashar al-Assad’s war against those Syrian civilians who opposed his rule.

Jo rejected the suggestion that we ‘need to make a choice between dealing with either Assad or ISIS.’ She recognised that ‘Assad is ISIS’s biggest recruiting sergeant, and as long as his tyranny continues, so too will ISIS’s terror.’

She advocated a comprehensive approach to Syria involving humanitarian, diplomatic, and military measures.

• More than words

Those three aspects of UK policy—diplomatic, military, humanitarian—remain out of sync. British diplomats demand an end to the killing, but have nothing to give force to their words.

Britain’s military focuses only on ISIS, constrained from acting to stop Assad’s bombing, or even from acting when Assad uses chemical weapons.

Britain’s aid workers deliver record amounts of aid, but don’t have the backing from government to do aid airdrops to besieged communities.

An ever-worsening situation for civilians in Syria and refugees outside Syria is matched by a strengthening of pro-Assad forces dominated by militias, by Iran’s foreign fighters, and by Hezbollah, who are a growing terrorist threat.

ISIS is pushed back, but there is no end to terror in sight.

Jo’s analysis has proven true: fail to protect civilians and we fail by every other measure.

• Where are we now?

Jo would have been utterly disappointed to see that her calls for a no-bombing zone and aid drops, including in her last speech as an MP, were ignored.

The UK has stood by as residents of cities such as Daraya and East Aleppo were forced from their homes by starvation sieges and air attacks.

She would have been horrified by the chemical attack on the city of Khan Sheihoun in April, and by the continued daily bombardment of hospitals and residential areas by Assad and Putin, most recently in Daraa.

What would she have thought of the US strike in response to the chemical attack?

She did call for the UK to use the threat of just such a targeted response as a deterrent, not just against chemical attacks but against all bombing of civilians.

Her aim would have been to stop the killing, not to stop just one type of weapon.

• Jo’s legacy on Syria

Jo would clearly have found it unacceptable that the International Coalition against ISIS is now itself killing hundreds of civilians in Syria, outpacing even Assad and Russia’s toll in the month of May. The Coalition even reportedly used white phosphorous on the city of Raqqah.

The RAF is not implicated in these escalating killings. But as UK Syrians recently wrote to the Prime Minister, the UK is ‘a major partner in the Coalition, with a British officer as deputy commander, and therefore carries joint responsibility for such actions.’

In the aftermath of her murder, Jo’s brave and passionate work for Syria was praised by UK political leaders from both major parties. The reality, however, is that her legacy on Syria has not been honoured in Westminster.

• Compassion without borders

In reflecting on today’s anniversary, let us renew our commitment to the ideals to which Jo pledged her life.

Let us embrace our diversity as a country and advocate for tolerance. And let us make a fresh start for Syria with civilian protection at the core of our policy.

Let us ensure accountability for our own actions and those of our allies. Let us listen to Syrians, and work for a solution that respects Syrians’ rights and enables them to enjoy a peaceful future in a free Syria.

Jo’s ideals and her compassion were not limited by borders. Let them not limit ours.


Dr Yasmine Nahlawi is Research and Policy Coordinator for Rethink Rebuild Society, a Manchester-based Syrian advocacy and community organisation.

Dr Mohammad Isreb is a member of the Syrian Association of Yorkshire.

Kellie Strom is Secretariat to the Friends of Syria All-Party Parliamentary Group and a member of Syria Solidarity UK.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

How to plug the manifesto gaps on Syria




By Clara Connolly

What do the election manifestos say on Syria, a crucial issue for any future government? There are some surprises: I’ll highlight policies for each party below, before trying to identify the gaps and outline some proposals from UK Syrian groups (but more widely supported) which could help to end the conflict.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

One year on: The UK’s broken promise on Syria aid airdrops


Photo: Syrian demonstrators at the Foreign Office, London, one year ago.

This time last year, the UK and other ISSG states undertook that they would begin aid airdrops to besieged communities in Syria if the Assad regime continued to block ground access past the 1st of June 2016. We are now one year on from that failed deadline.

The World Food Programme, which has by now flown 250 aid airdrops to regime-held Deir Ezzor, refused to fly aid to areas besieged by Assad unless the regime itself first gave permission.

The UK Government backed away from its commitment, the sieges continued, and the Assad regime and its allies forced the displacement of entire civilian communities, each of thousands and even tens of thousands of people.

THE COST OF FAILURE

In the past year, civilian communities have been forced from their homes in Daraya, Moadamiyeh, Wadi Barada, Al Waer, Madaya, Zabadani, and more, as well as from eastern Aleppo city.

This mass displacement makes the prospect of resolving the refugee crisis ever more distant. Forced displacement creates conditions for future conflict and empowers extremism.

The Global Report on Internal Displacement for 2016 calculates that a further 1.3 million people were displaced in Syria last year, bringing the total to 6.6 million people internally displaced in Syria.

Detailed costed proposals were put forward last year to use unmanned drones for airdrops. These proposals were drawn up by UK experts who had military experience, knowledge of the situation on the ground, and understood both the risks of action and the costs of inaction.

Despite this, Theresa May rejected calls for airdrops.

Over 146,000 people in the UK signed a petition calling for Parliament to debate airdrops. But Theresa May wouldn’t debate the issue.

Humanitarian drones are already delivering medical supplies in Rwanda. Drones for aid could save lives in Syria. The Ministry of Defence is investing £8 million on developing future warfighting drones. The UK must also be able to invest in humanitarian drones, for use in Syria and elsewhere.

WE NEED A FRESH START FOR SYRIA

This week the new French President Emmanuel Macron declared that for him humanitarian aid access is a red line.

We hope that President Macron’s remarks may now give an opportunity to reopen the call for airdrops here in the UK, with the possibility of France as a partner. Hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians are still under siege and threatened with forced displacement. The Assad regime continues to block medical aid as well as food. There is still a chance to help, and still further risks in continuing failure to help.

• Please do your part to hold the Government to its promise.
• Speak up on the 1st anniversary of the broken aid deadline.
• Call for the UK along with France to commit to aid airdrops.

Syria groups in the UK have drawn up a list of eight pledges on Syria, including on airdrops.
Please use our simple online form to email your local candidates. Ask candidates to support these pledges.

For much more detail on sieges, see the series of reports produced by Siege Watch, a project by The Syria Institute and PAX, the Dutch aid NGO.

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 info@syriauk.org

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.

Signatories:

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

Earlier:

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.