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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.