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Sunday 10 May 2015

The No-Fly Zone Debate


Syria Solidarity Movement UK decided at the start of this year to call for a no-fly zone. It’s a controversial position, and even within Syria Solidarity UK opinion is not uniform: some supporters have strong objections, and some have caveats.

We make our call for a no-fly zone in solidarity with Syrians: with Syria Civil Defence rescue volunteers, with non-violent activists of the Planet Syria campaign, with Syrian doctors, with the Syrian Coalition, with Syrians who first called for a no-fly zone in street demonstrations as long ago as October 2011.

To encourage debate we would like to publish a set of arguments both for and against, as well as explorations of issues involved in choosing one form of no-fly zone versus another. Submissions are welcome from all. We hope to be able to present a broad selection of opinion, not just from within Syria Solidarity UK.

Please email submissions to: info@syriauk.org


On the last working day of the previous parliament, the government announced that the UK will join in the US-led effort to train Syrians to fight ISIS. Earlier the Wall Street Journal reported that if re-elected, the Conservatives intended to propose to Parliament that the UK extend its participation in the US-led air campaign against ISIS to also carry out strikes in Syria.

We support the right of Syrians to defend themselves from the regime of Assad and from ISIS, and measures to empower Syrians in their fight are welcome, but these policies continue to turn a blind eye to Assad’s violence.

Assad remains the greatest mortal threat to Syrian civilians. Assad regime forces are responsible for over 95% of violent deaths confirmed by the Violations Documentation Center in Syria since the start of the conflict.

A very large portion of those killed by the regime are killed by air attacks. Since the start of last year, over 40% of all civilians confirmed killed have been killed by regime air attacks. Over half of all the women killed in that time were killed by Assad’s air force; over half of all the children killed were killed by regime air attacks.

The US-led air campaign against ISIS in Syria is legally justified as collective self-defence of Iraq, not as a defence of Syrian civilians. If the UK is to act in Syria, then the fate of Syria’s civilians should be central to the decision. Syrian civilians need protection against both ISIS and Assad.

A no-fly zone action to stop Assad’s air attacks can be legally justified as a humanitarian intervention according to the standard set out by the UK Government in 1998 and reiterated in 2013 and 2014. This is the call to action that the UK Parliament must answer: a call to act on a clear humanitarian basis, in the interest of Syria’s civilians, to stop Assad’s air attacks.

We recently made this argument in more detail in a letter sent to the Minister of Defence and to the defence spokespeople of Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Read it here.


Recently the Syrian American Medical Society and The Syria Campaign launched Medics Under Fire, an international appeal to doctors, nurses, and medical workers, to support the call by Syrian doctors for action to stop the Assad regime’s air attacks.

Read more about the challenges faced by Syrian health workers in our earlier post, Let’s talk about healthcare.

Above, Dr Fadel Moghrabi on why he supports a No-Fly Zone.


On the 26th of April, Syrians and their friends marched in London to support the Call from Syria for a no-fly zone. At the US Embassy our letter to Ambassador Matthew Barzun was read out. You can read it here.

See this earlier post for the second part of the demonstration outside the BBC.