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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.

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