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Wednesday, 13 November 2019

The quiet soldier

By Clara Connolly

Syria Solidarity UK is devastated to hear of the death this week, at his home in Istanbul, of James Le Mesurier.

Whatever the circumstances, which are not yet clear, it cannot be seen as a coincidence in the week of his death that he has been attacked by the Russian Foreign Ministry, libelled as a supporter of jihadists; and that the Russian bombing of hospitals in Idlib has resumed.

For James le Mesurier, and his organisation Mayday Rescue, have been centrally involved in the training of the Syrian Civil Defence—more commonly known as the White Helmets—a volunteer group of first responders in Syria’s opposition areas, who also serve as vital sources of information about Russian and other atrocities in the Syrian conflict.

James Le Mesurier was a British soldier whose experience in Bosnia first led him to consider humanitarian work. He left the army and worked in the UN and then in private security companies for a time, but was dissatisfied with the effectiveness of either for the protection of civilians in conflict.

So in 2013, seeing Syrian civilians struggling to respond to relentless air attacks by the Assad regime, he launched the first training course for twenty-five Syrian volunteer first defenders, with the help of Turkish disaster response teams.

Since then, he was until his death intensively involved in training successive White Helmet teams. Their autonomy as Syrians remained essential to him: he has remained a trainer and provider of equipment rather than an organiser. He and they believed that their freedom from interference by outside political actors has remained essential to their integrity.

Le Mesurier is one of a number of remarkable British men and women whose individual initiatives have placed the protection of civilians at the heart of their work for Syria. I’ll mention two others: the surgeon David Nott who has trained Syrian doctors in the war zone; and Jo Cox, the MP who spoke often and eloquently in Parliament for the protection of Syrians.

The outstanding work of such individuals has been in stark contrast with British and other governments who have never placed first priority on the protection of civilians. They have remained unmoved by the pleas of the White Helmets and others (most recently Kurdish civilians) for a No-Fly Zone, and have been (to put it mildly) careless about civilian casualties in the Coalition war against ISIS.

At this sad time for his family and for his colleagues, we salute the quiet heroism and dedication of James le Mesurier, and we condemn the inaction of Britain and the world in the face of the continued suffering of Syrian civilians.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

WANTED for targeting hospitals

Putin and Assad’s forces are bombing hospitals—again.

In a single day this week, Wednesday 6 November 2019, two hospitals were targeted in Idlib province, Syria.

Al Ikhlas Maternity Hospital near Shnan village in southern Idlib province was bombed by Russian planes, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights. Two medics were injured. The building and equipment were severely damaged. Here’s a video.

The Kafranbel Surgical Hospital was bombed again. This hospital—run by a UK charity—has already been bombed several times this year.

It was bombed on 5 May by a Russian pilot who released four bombs on the hospital at five minute intervals. His radio communications were intercepted and analysed for a New York Times investigation.

It was bombed again on 4 July. First by military helicopters shortly before 3pm local time. Then again about fifty minutes later by air launched missiles.

Kafranbel Surgical Hospital was on the UN’s deconfliction list. This means that the hospital team, trying to protect the hospital, had given the coordinates of the hospital to the UN for them to share with military powers intervening in Syria, including Russia.

Of course medics in Syria already knew Putin’s forces were targeting hospitals, just as Putin’s ally Assad has targeted medics since the early demonstrations of 2011 were met with deadly force, and doctors and nurses went to try and help Assad’s victims.

The hope was that by establishing the fact via the UN that these were hospitals and therefore protected in law, that Putin and Assad might be dissuaded from attacking. That hasn’t worked.

But having shared coordinates with Russia means that there is now no doubt about the criminality of the two leaders, Putin and Assad, and no doubt about the criminality of the military officers with command responsibility for these attacks.

Assad’s top officers, Assad’s ministers, are all sanctioned by the UK, sanctioned by the EU. But no Russian individuals are sanctioned for crimes in Syria. It’s time for that to change.

In the current election, voters are hearing scary things about Russian government influence in UK politics. So will British politicians be willing take a stand on Russian crimes in Syria?

The following Russian officers and leaders should be sanctioned. Criminal cases should be prepared should the opportunity arise to prosecute them.

Lieutenant-General Alexander Chayko, Head of Russian group of forces in Syria.

Colonel-General Andrey Serdyukov, Head of Russian group of forces in Syria up to September 2019.

Lieutenant-General Andrey Yudin, Chief of the Air Force.

Colonel-General Sergei Surovikin, Commander in Chief of the Russian VKS.

Sergey Shoigu, Russia’s Defence Minister.

Vladimir Putin, President of Russia.

Read more about Russia’s chain of command targeting hospitals.