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.