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Thursday, 15 August 2019

Photographers in Idlib



Merna Alhasan talks about a photography exhibition in Idlib.

The exhibition was organised by the Shafak Organisation and sponsored by the Al Karameh Community Centre.

Friday, 9 August 2019

The aftermath of bombing: video by Merna Alhasan



Merna Alhasan, in the town of Arihah, in the Syrian province of Idlib, speaks about the pain of the aftermath of bombing:

“Of course we all experience it, but in the immediate aftermath we don’t feel the full catastrophe that has befallen us. In the immediate aftermath of an airstrike, people are busy praying for those killed, pulling the injured from the ruins, and clearing up the town. But there is greater anguish that affects us after bombardment.

“Here, five people were killed, and many injured, including women and children. It’s not only people’s homes that are deliberately targeted, but also vital institutions and infrastructure. It is an attempt to completely cut the lifelines of towns. It is a policy of systematic destruction to force civilians to flee, targeting rural parts of south and west Idlib, Arihah and other towns. These areas have been under a vicious military campaign by Russian aggressors as well as Assad forces.

“Arihah today is almost empty, no longer the bride of the north, no longer the city of cherry trees. The ground is tinted with blood of the children and women killed.

“We witnessed devastating events. Rawan and her sister, the people who perished here, burned to death, because there was a fuel store here. “Here in the same place we had a local authority department, and a teachers’ union. People have left here now.

“Some will return to this town, to the cities they fled from, but they will find no home, no life. So where can these people go?

“Some people can’t afford to flee. This reflects the general situation of people living in liberated areas.

“But still, some people will return, return to find homes destroyed, their city decimated. So families are forced to leave, or forced to live in a small room, bare, with nothing but a roof, because they want to stay in their home town.

“That is why I wanted to talk about these less obvious effects, far reaching effects of bombing which amount to a humanitarian catastrophe. All that we worked for, that we spent our lives building, is under threat of destruction, of being ground down to the floor by Russian aggressors and Assad forces.

“But I want to send a message: Here in Idlib, there are millions of people, and they have not given up. This is our hope, God willing, that we will win our freedom, despite all the bloodshed, despite all we have sacrificed, and that victory will be with us.”

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Les répercussions des bombardements d’Ariha



Merna Alhasan, jeune journaliste syrienne d’Idlib, décrit la douleur ressentie par des civils des répercussions des bombardements depuis la ville d’Ariha, Idlib.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Sanction Putin’s officers. Ground Assad. It CAN be done.


Image from Channel 4 News report on Syrians fleeing the front lines.

Since late April, Russian and Assad regime forces have been relentlessly bombing civilians in northwestern Syria, in Idlib and northern Hama provinces.

From the start, the Russian and Assad regime escalation singled out hospitals as targets for bombing, along with Syria Civil Defence rescue centres, schools, water facilities, bakeries, markets, and agricultural crops.

The UK Government has adopted a line in recent years of saying that it has little leverage. But the UK does have the power to act.

  • Call for the UK to draw a red line on hospital attacks and other attacks on civilian targets.
  • Call for the UK to respond to hospital bombings as it does to chemical attacks.
  • Call for the UK to sanction Putin’s officers with command responsibility for crimes in Syria.
  • Call for the UK to ground Assad’s air force—responsible for both chemical attacks and hospital bombings.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights reports 606 civilians killed by Russian and Assad regime forces from 26 April to 12 July 2019, including 157 children.

From the start, the Russian and Assad regime escalation singled out hospitals and Syria Civil Defence rescue centres as targets.

The Syrian Archive has posted open source investigations into two hospital bombings in particular, the 5 May 2019 bombing of Nabed Al Hayat Hospital in Hass Town in Idlib, and the bombing of Kafranbel surgical hospital the same day.

These reports are a small sample from a campaign which has seen at least 32 medical facilities bombed from 28 April to 10 July 2019, according to UOSSM, the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations.

In recent days, Channel 4 News has broadcast evidence of an apparently deliberately targeted attack on White Helmets rescuers as they were trying to save lives.

Channel 4 has also broadcast reporting on the Assad regime’s targeting of farmers and deliberate destruction of crops.

Why do Assad and Putin target hospitals, rescue workers, and even farmers? The answer is that these attacks are part of the same strategy as the chemical attacks and starvation sieges seen earlier in Assad’s war on Syria’s civilians. The aim is to make life unliveable in areas outside regime control, to force the population to either submit or flee.

And hundreds of thousands have fled, sheltering as close to the Turkish border as they can. An unknown number succeed in crossing the border, despite Turkey’s wall and armed patrols. UN OCHA reports 330,000 people internally displaced in these last two and a half months.

Once again, a report from Channel 4 News gives a clear picture of the situation amongst Syrians who have fled to the border.

Despite all the evidence, there are no EU or UK sanctions for Russian crimes in Syria. But the UK has the means to gather evidence of Russian attacks, and to identify officers in the chain of command. And the UK has the means to impose its own sanctions even if other EU states won’t agree.

UK action on chemical weapons shows that the UK can deter crimes by the Assad regime, Now the UK also needs to set a red line on hospital attacks and other attacks on civilian targets.

We saw the cost of failing to act in 2012 and 2013. UK leaders now again have a choice: allow this suffering to go on, once again escalating the refugee crisis, or act at last to protect civilians.

Sanction Putin’s officers.

Ground Assad.

It CAN be done.


Thursday, 11 July 2019

Thank you!



We would like to thank everyone who came to our Freedom Across Borders conference on Saturday 6 July, and who helped make it such a success—all who came to talk, to listen, to discuss and share.

We are turning now to editing videos and preparing transcripts, and then to working on a book of the conference, and looking at how else to take these strands of work further.

And we look forward to updating you as we publish the results on the Freedom Across Borders website in the coming weeks and months.

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Rukban camp: A case study in reviewing the UK’s protection of civilians strategy



Dr Kate Ferguson

Excerpted from Preventing While Protecting: The UK’s Protection of Civilians Strategy in review, a report by Protection Approaches.

Rukban camp, Southern Syria

Rukban is a camp of tens of thousands of displaced Syrians who have fled violence elsewhere in the country but have been prevented from crossing over the nearby border into Jordan. The camp lies next to the Tanf US military base and falls within a 55 kilometre radius ‘de-confliction zone’ controlled by the Global Coalition against Daesh. The UK helps to defend the Tanf zone. While the UK may not consider itself singularly responsible for Rukban, those inside the de-confliction zone nonetheless fall within the care of the UK’s broader protection of civilian commitments.

The deteriorating humanitarian situation inside Rukban has led to growing concerns about the safety and well-being of Syrians within the camp, as well as those who have now left for temporary regime-run shelters in Homs via ‘humanitarian corridors’ set up by Russian forces in February 2019. Assad’s forces and allies are deliberately blocking food and medical aid from reaching Rukban, effectively forcing thousands of vulnerable people—including women and children—to leave the camp. There are reports that some of these civilians face conscription, arrest, torture, or death once entering regime-controlled territory.

Rukban is a civilian protection crisis for the international community. The level of humanitarian suffering experienced by those remaining within the camp, and the fate of many of the thousands that have left, illustrate the limits of current protection frameworks. Even when vulnerable populations reach the apparent safety of the Coalition zone of military control, there is a singular lack of clarity about the extent to which these forces and their partners are able or willing to uphold their responsibilities to protect civilians from identity-based violence, torture, and direct or indirect forced displacement.

The UK’s commitments to the people in Rukban, and the Syrian people more broadly, cut across its stated responsibilities to help protect populations from mass atrocities and to protect civilians in armed conflict. Given the widespread, systematic, and deliberate nature of the targeting of civilians throughout the crisis, any POC activities which the UK engage in require the additional analytical framework of atrocity prevention.

If the UK were to integrate the concept of ‘preventing while protecting’ into its analytical and decision-making framework in Rukban, it would at the very least assist UK POC actors in ‘doing no harm’ and inadvertently leaving Rukban populations vulnerable to future atrocities.

Immediate prevention could include: Prioritising the direct delivery of aid by UK and international Coalition forces and/or Jordan to alleviate the desperate conditions that force many back to territory where atrocities are ongoing.

Mitigation prevention could include: Investing in medium-term safeguarding of Rukban camp against further possible incursions by Syrian and Russian forces, and working with Jordan to facilitate asylum and resettlement in order to prevent de facto refoulement.

Long term prevention could include: Supporting community and capacity-building within the camps and Jordanian communities at the border including peace education, trauma support, and other safeguarding.

Download the full report from Protection Approaches.

Friday, 14 June 2019

Come to the Freedom Across Borders conference, 6 July in London



Freedom Across Borders is a conference on 6 July in London being organised by Syria Solidarity UK with Amnesty International UK, the Syrian Legal Development Programme, Dawlaty, Migrants Organise and others.

We’re going to be talking about refugee experiences in the UK, in Europe, and in the countries neighbouring Syria.

We’ll be talking about surviving trauma, and seeking justice.

We’ll be looking to connect Syrians’ experiences with others in the UK who have been forced to cross borders in their search for freedom.

Rouba Mhaissen of Sawa for Development and Aid will tell of their work with refugees in Lebanon. Reem Assil of Common Purpose will talk about their diaspora leaders programmes, including with Syrians, and Zrinka Bralo will talk about bringing her experiences as a Bosnian refugee to her work with Migrants Organise.

In our Survivor Strategies workshops, we’ll be talking to people from Freedom From Torture and Art Refuge UK about surviving trauma, and we’ll have a discussion on security challenges for activists.

We will be talking about preserving Syrian memory, about Dawlaty’s work archiving Syrian oral history and about Qisetna’s work with Syrians on telling personal stories, and about Positive Negatives’ work with survivors of several conflicts, presenting personal testimony in the form of comics.

Syrian refugees who reach the UK are survivors of perhaps the biggest crime scene this century, so we are working together with the Syrian Legal Development Programme on legal accountability issues. Women Now for Development will talk about justice and accountability from a feminist perspective. Airwars will be explaining their work on reporting casualties from international military interventions in Syria.

To see the latest on Freedom Across Borders, visit the website.

To join us on 6 July in London, register via Eventbrite.

Below: From Khalid’s Story, one of a trilogy of short comics collectively titled A Perilous Journey, illustrated by Lindsay Pollock for Positive Negatives in 2015.

Friday, 3 May 2019

UK failure to protect: Barrel bombs are back in Syria



Photo: A vehicle streaked with blood after Syrian regime aircraft targeted civilians fleeing bombing in northwest Syria on 1 May 2019. Two men and a woman were killed.

What can the UK do?

1. The UK can act to protect civilians by striking Assad’s helicopter fleet on the ground.

2. The UK can make a case for targeted EU sanctions in response to Russian attacks on hospitals.

Putin and Assad are escalating bombing of civilians in Syria’s northwest.

Russia has once again been targeting hospitals, and the Assad regime has again started dropping barrel bombs—improvised high-explosive weapons—on residential areas.

Just over a year ago, the UK joined with the US and France to strike Assad regime targets in response to a chemical attack in Douma.

That chemical attack was carried out by a helicopter dropping a chlorine weapon onto a residential building where civilians were sheltering.

The UK part of that April 2018 joint response targeted the Him Sinshar chemical weapons storage site, located some fifteen miles west of Homs.

The UK Government’s legal justification for the 2018 strike was based on the concept of ‘humanitarian protection’. But because the Government’s action only focused on chemical weapons and not on other weapons causing suffering to even greater numbers of people in Syria, the action cannot be judged a true humanitarian intervention. A more comprehensive strategy of civilian protection by the Government is necessary to qualify.

In particular, the joint action by the UK, US, and France failed to act against Assad’s helicopter fleet, used not just to deliver the weapon in the Douma chemical attack, but used in several other chemical attacks in Syria, and used in several more attacks with high explosive bombs against residential areas, and against prohibited civilian targets such as hospitals.

Hospital attacks have been a central feature of the Assad regime campaign against civilians. These have been carried out by Assad regime helicopters and fixed wing aircraft, and by Russian aircraft. There has been no direct action taken by the UK to stop them.

Assad’s use of chemical weapons needs to be understood as part of the Syrian regime’s wider strategy of waging war directly against civilian populations in areas outside regime control, to kill, maim, and starve them, to make them flee or surrender.

Civilian casualties of Assad’s bombing are by design, not by accident. Hospitals ARE a target for the Assad regime. Refugee movements are not a side effect but a deliberate objective of Assad’s campaign to make life unliveable in areas of Syria beyond his rule.

The UK’s minimal response wholly failed to address this strategy of death, destruction, and displacement. The UK has failed to protect civilians.

What can the UK do?

1. The UK can act to protect civilians by striking Assad’s helicopter fleet on the ground.

Nobody likes this option, but it is there. It is just as real an option now as at any other point in these years of mass-murder in Syria.

The legal basis is the same as used by the UK in responding to the 2018 chemical attack, and the case is stronger, as Assad’s helicopter fleet is responsible for many more civilian deaths than his chemical weapons programme.

2. The UK can make a case for targeted EU sanctions in response to Russian attacks on hospitals.

In the past week, four medical facilities were bombed in four days:

Kaston Primary Health Care Centre, Hama, 1 May.
• Alhbeit Primary Health Care Centre, Idlib, 29 April.
Al Latamna hospital, Hama, 28 April.
Al Madiq Hospital, Hama, 28 April.

There are zero—ZERO—sanctions by the EU on Russia for its actions in Syria, despite years of targeting hospitals, targeting rescuers, targeting aid workers.

The UK thinks it can’t get sanctions on Russian entities or individuals passed by other EU states.

The UK has evidence from multiple sources of Russian responsibility for attacks on hospitals, from the Sentry Syria early warning system which is supported by the UK, and from the Coalition air campaign in Syria which monitors Russian and Assad regime aircraft for deconfliction.

The UK should now publicly make the case for EU sanctions on Russian officers with command responsibility for crimes such as hospital attacks. And the UK should back up that case by publishing evidence to whatever level of detail is compatible with security concerns.


We have been here before.

Turn the sound on for the above video and you will hear the distress of the couple looking at the ruins of their home, bombed by an Assad regime helicopter.

We have been here before, through the siege and assault on Baba Amr, on Daraya, on Aleppo, on Madaya, on so many Syrian communities. Routine statements now from UK politicians and officials are worse than meaningless. Only actions count.

Below: Words from a UK official: “Monitoring…” “grave concern…” “must stop…”



Monday, 15 April 2019

Rukban camp: A new Srebrenica



On 11 July 1995, the Bosnian Serb Army entered Srebrenica, a town in Bosnia-Herzegovina that had been declared a ‘safe area’ by the UN Security Council. Six hundred Dutch soldiers were stationed in Srebrenica as UN peacekeepers. Civilians who sought refuge in the UN base were forced to leave and handed over to Bosnian Serb forces by the Dutch soldiers. 8,372 men and boys were shot over the course of the next few days, with the majority being murdered between 11–13 July.

In 2013, after over five years of trials, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands found that the Netherlands had been in control of Dutch soldiers in Srebrenica, and was liable for the deaths of civilians whom they had forced to leave and who were then murdered.

A few days ago, on Friday 12 April 2019, Syria Solidarity UK received a report about the killing of three civilians by Assad regime forces. The three people killed were amongst thousands forced in recent weeks to leave Rukban camp because of hardship and starvation caused by the blocking of humanitarian aid. Russia, the Assad regime, and UK ally Jordan, are all blocking or restricting humanitarian access to the camp.

The three young men were killed at an improvised detention facility in a school in the Baba Amr neighbourhood of Homs, where several people transferred from Rukban camp had been taken by Russian and Assad regime forces. According to EA WorldView’s account, one source said that “everyone, even women and children, witnessed it.”

We cannot know if others forcibly transferred from Rukban have also been killed. We cannot know if more will be killed in the coming days.

There are clear parallels with Srebrenica. Rukban camp is within an area militarily occupied by the US-UK Coalition. Rukban camp is next to Tanf base, occupied by US troops. A zone of 55 kilometre radius around Tanf base is patrolled by US and UK military aircraft. Under Geneva Convention IV, the US and UK both have clear legal duties to civilians in Rukban camp which is within their area of military occupation. In particular the UK and US have a legal duty to provide humanitarian aid.

The UK, US, and Jordan are all complicit in the forcible transfer of population from Rukban camp by Russia and the Assad regime, and are complicit in the killing of forcibly transferred people by the Assad regime.

The UK and its allies must deliver needed aid NOW to civilians in Rukban camp, whether by RAF airlift to Tanf base, or by airdrop, or by land via Jordan.

It took eighteen years for a court to find the Netherlands liable for killings in Srebrenica. Syrians and their friends won’t rest. We will seek to hold legally accountable all those responsible for this unfolding crime against civilians in Rukban.

Image from a UN video of their last aid delivery to Rukban camp in February 2019.



Above: Tweet by Refik Hodzic, former spokesperson for International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, on forced transfer and reported killing of civilians from Rukban camp.

Friday, 12 April 2019

REPORT: Three executed in Russian forcible transfer of displaced people from Rukban camp

According to a report received from a source in Rukban camp, three young people who were amongst those transferred from the camp in a Russian-organised displacement have been executed by Assad regime forces.

The three people executed were in a group taken to a school in the Baba Amr neighbourhood of Homs. Women in the group were released and men were detained. The three executed were killed in the school.

Syria Solidarity UK is unable to verify this report, but the source has been reliable in the past.

Monday, 8 April 2019

The UK is complicit in a crime against humanity at Rukban camp

PDF version. Updated 12 April 2019.

While MPs have been absorbed in Brexit, the UK Government and Ministry of Defence have failed in their legal duty to civilians under Geneva Convention IV, and are now complicit in a crime against humanity under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

The UK must now urgently deliver aid to Rukban’s civilians by any means necessary.



Where and what is Rukban camp?

Rukban camp is in southern Syria on the border with Jordan, near where it meets the Syria-Iraq border.

Rukban is a camp of internally displaced Syrians, numbering between 40,000 and 50,000, who fled towards Jordan and were blocked by Jordan from crossing the border.

Rukban camp is next to Tanf, a Coalition base. The base is currently held by US forces and supports the Coalition’s Syrian client militia forces in the Tanf zone.

Rukban camp is inside a 55 kilometre radius zone around Tanf base controlled by Coalition forces, including the Royal Air Force.

What is happening with Rukban camp?

Russia and the Assad regime are trying to forcibly displace people from Rukban camp by blocking access for food and medical aid.

Russia and the Assad regime want the population to return to areas under the control of the Assad regime, as a step towards the regime regaining control of the area.

Most people in the camp are afraid to go to regime-held areas, fearing conscription, imprisonment, torture and killing.

Latest report 12 April 2019: Over two thousand women and children, and some men, have been forced to leave for regime-held areas, due to aid being blocked.

(2,254 people up to 12 April, approx. one in twenty of Rukban’s population. Data source: SARC)

Jordan’s government also wants Rukban camp cleared in order to avoid any further responsibility for the people living there.

Jordan has been blocking most cross-border humanitarian access for years.

The US-UK Coalition as the occupying force has legal duties to civilians in Tanf zone under Geneva Convention IV, including to bring in aid when necessary. The US and UK are not fulfilling this legal duty, or even acknowledging it.

How is the UK responsible for Rukban camp?

The UK is a senior partner in the anti-ISIS Coalition which is occupying Tanf zone.

The UK holds the post of Deputy Commander in the Coalition’s military campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria: Operation Inherent Resolve. This post is currently filled by UK Major General Christopher Ghika CBE.

The Coalition is enforcing a military occupation of the 55km radius Tanf zone which includes Rukban camp.

The Royal Air Force plays a part in enforcing the Coalition’s occupation of the Tanf zone.

This military occupation is part of a Coalition operation in Syria which claims legal justification under Article 51 of the UN Charter as collective self-defence of Iraq, as set out in a letter to the UN Secretary General on 23 September 2014 from then US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power.

Geneva Convention IV Section III sets out legal duties that come with any military occupation.

Article 49 prohibits individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory.

Article 55 states that: To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population; it should, in particular, bring in the necessary foodstuffs, medical stores and other articles if the resources of the occupied territory are inadequate.

The UK has the legal duty and the means to bring aid in to Rukban.

The RAF already operates in the Tanf zone. It has the aircraft and the experience to do the job. US forces have already demonstrated military air drops in the Tanf zone. Now the RAF must fly in aid.


The UK must now urgently deliver aid to Rukban’s civilians by any means necessary.


The latest news is that as many as 2,254 people have been forced to leave for regime-held areas. Those leaving are disproportionately women and children, as men in particular fear conscription or imprisonment by the Assad regime

Forcible transfer of population is a crime against humanity under Article 7 (d) of the Rome Statute of the ICC.

By failing its legal duty under Geneva Convention IV — and thus allowing conditions for forced displacement — the UK is complicit in a crime against humanity, and is at risk of future prosecution by the International Criminal Court.

Both the UK and Jordan are ICC State Parties.

By blocking cross-border aid, Jordan is similarly complicit and at risk of prosecution.

Jordan’s government, which is blocking cross-border aid access to Rukban camp, is also a recipient of major sums of UK aid.

The UK should privately and publicly press Jordan’s government to restore cross-border aid access to Rukban camp. Until Jordan does so, the UK must fly aid in to Rukban, either by air bridge via Tanf base or by air drop.

Write to your MP and call for the UK to do its legal duty towards civilians in Rukban camp.



Above: US military airdrop to US forces inside the Tanf zone, September 2018.

The US has repeatedly demonstrated that military air drops and airlifts to the Tanf zone are viable.

The UK military must now do its duty under Geneva Convention IV: deliver aid to civilians in Rukban camp.