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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…”



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