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Monday 18 December 2017

Is Labour whistling Russia’s tune on Syria?

Photo: Syria Civil Defence recovering one of the victims of Sunday’s bombing of Khan Sheikhoun by suspected Russian warplanes. At least ten civilians were reported killed. Khan Sheikhoun was the site of the Syrian regime’s chemical attack on April 4th that killed more than 80 people.

Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary replied with denial and indignation to our recent letter concerning her remarks in the Commons on a deal to keep Assad in power in Syria.

Her reply addressed only Syria Solidarity UK, and ignored the co-authors of our letter, Labour Campaign for International Development.

Her reply failed to make clear either her own view or Labour’s policy on Assad, and it raised new questions.

To recap, on Monday 11 December, in reply to a statement by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Boris Johnson, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry said:

“Is Iran ready to accept, as an outcome of the Astana process, that it will withdraw its forces from Syria, and will Hezbollah and the Shi’a militias do likewise, provided that President Assad is left in place, that all coalition forces are withdrawn, and that Syria is given international assistance with its reconstruction? If that is the case, will the UK Government accept that deal, despite the Foreign Secretary’s repeated assertion that President Assad has no place in the future government of Syria?”

Together with the Labour Campaign for International Development, we wrote to Emily Thornberry to express our disappointment that she had proposed such a deal. We wrote:

“Assad’s regime has been responsible for extensive and systematic crimes against humanity, and for the large majority of civilian deaths during the war. Any implication that Assad has a place in the future of Syria is therefore deeply harmful, as is any suggestion that the UK might fund the reconstruction of Syria under his rule.”

And we concluded our joint letter with this call:

“We ask that you please clarify Labour’s position on the Assad regime, and re-establish the party as one that actively condemns those responsible for mass murder and genocide and seeks to hold them accountable. To do otherwise would be to let down those living under the regime’s bombs.We look forward to hearing from you.”

In her letter of reply, Emily Thornberry ignored the call for a clarification of policy. She asserted that:

“In response to a government statement on its talks with the Iranian regime, I asked what Iran was demanding on Syria, and how the government had responded. I advanced no proposals of my own, and endorsed none of Iran’s demands.”

This obscures what she actually said in the Commons, where rather than simply ask what Iran’s demands were, she asked if Iran and its allied Hezbollah and Shi’a militia would agree to a series of linked proposals which she herself set out in her question; she then asked not how the government had responded to any Iranian demands but how the government would respond if Iran would accept the package of proposals she herself had just described.

Emily Thornberry introduced this set of proposals into the exchange in the House of Commons. She did not at the time ascribe them to anyone else. Now in her letter she says the proposals are not hers.

Her remarks in the Commons did not present the set of proposals as Iran’s own; on the contrary, if they are Iran’s proposals then there would be no logic in her asking whether Iran will accept them.

But if these are not Iran’s proposals, and if as she says they are not Emily Thornberry’s own proposals, then whose proposals are they?

The Astana process which she referred to in her question in the Commons is the Russian-led talks process, as opposed to the UN-led peace process at Geneva which was established by UN Security Council Resolution 2254. Are we to take it that the set of proposals introduced into the Commons debate by Emily Thornberry is Russia’s set of proposals?

We have not seen this set of proposals publicly put forward by Russia, or by Iran, or by any other party to the Astana talks. The only place we can find them is in Emily Thornberry’s 11 December speech. If anyone has an alternative source for them, we would be very interested to hear.

Thursday 14 December 2017

Call to clarify Labour’s position on the Assad regime

UPDATE: Emily Thornberry responds – scroll down for more

Syria Solidarity UK and the Labour Campaign for International Development have today jointly called on the Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry to clarify Labour’s position on the Assad regime.

This follows her remarks in the Commons on Monday, seen in the video above, and in Hansard here.

A PDF of our letter is here.

Rt Hon Emily Thornberry MP
House of Commons
14 December 2017

Dear Ms Thornberry,
We are writing to you, as campaigners for peace in Syria, to express our disappointment at your comments in the House, at the Oman, UAE and Iran debate on Monday 11 December 2017.

In your question to the Foreign Secretary, you proposed a deal which would involve Iranian and allied forces, withdrawing from Syria in exchange for the withdrawal of coalition forces, the maintenance of Assad in power, and the provision of aid for reconstruction.

Assad’s regime has been responsible for extensive and systematic crimes against humanity, and for the large majority of civilian deaths during the war. Any implication that Assad has a place in the future of Syria is therefore deeply harmful, as is any suggestion that the UK might fund the reconstruction of Syria under his rule.

To allow Assad to continue in his position as President, after all the crimes he and his allies have committed, would be entirely opposed to the values of the Labour Party, which should always champion democracy, social justice and equality. The party should instinctively stand in solidarity with oppressed people; to further enable an oppressor would be damaging, not just for Syria, but for human rights worldwide.

UN Security Council Resolution 2254 calls for UN-led talks — the Geneva process, not the Russian-led Astana talks — leading to elections. Free and fair elections are impossible as long as Assad holds as many as 200,000 Syrian citizens hostage in his prisons; and inconceivable as long as the Assad regime can prevent UN agencies from delivering even basic medical aid to civilians in besieged Eastern Ghouta in the suburbs of Damascus.

Without legal accountability, any reconstruction funding will reinforce the criminality of the Syrian regime which led to this crisis. As long as a just and viable political solution is out of reach, the UK should support reconstruction only in ways which strengthen rather than undermine the legal rights of Syrians. This can only be possible in areas outside of the control of the Assad regime.

We ask that you please clarify Labour’s position on the Assad regime, and re-establish the party as one that actively condemns those responsible for mass murder and genocide and seeks to hold them accountable. To do otherwise would be to let down those living under the regime’s bombs.We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Sana Kikhia
Syria Solidarity UK

David Taylor, Vice Chair
Labour Campaign for International Development

UPDATE: Emily Thornberry responds

Here is Emily Thornberry’s response. We would encourage readers to check her claim against what she actually said in Parliament.

Ms Sana Kikhia
Syria Solidarity UK

Our Ref: YD/KIKH03001/03174824
15 December 2017

Dear Ms Kikhia

Thank you for your letter of 14th December, which misreports me as making proposals about the future of Syria in a Commons debate on 11th December. I did no such thing.

In response to a government statement on its talks with the Iranian regime, I asked what Iran was demanding on Syria, and how the government had responded. I advanced no proposals of my own, and endorsed none of Iran’s demands.

To claim otherwise is both unworthy of your organisation, and a wilful misinterpretation of the parliamentary record.

Yours sincerely,
Rt Hon Emily Thornberry MP
Islington South and Finsbury

Tuesday 5 December 2017

Questions for the minister

Last week the All-Party Parliamentary Group Friends of Syria held a discussion around the film Last Men in Aleppo, screened the same evening on BBC 4. Amongst those taking part was Alistair Burt, Minister of State for the Middle East. We went along to hear what he had to say, and to ask some questions.

Much of the minister’s remarks concerned opposition to military intervention in Syria amongst the UK public. Mr Burt argued that the vote in 2013 was not just a block on any possible military action, but a missed opportunity to persuade the regime to agree a more peaceful negotiated solution. The minister portrayed the UK now as having little say any more in events.

Missing in this was the fact that the UK has militarily intervened in Syria. The UK Parliament voted to intervene against ISIS in 2015, and the UK now shares responsibility for the consequences of that one-eyed campaign; consequences which include not just the near-total destruction of the city of Raqqa with civilian casualties comparable to the fall of Aleppo and with further mass displacement of ordinary Syrians, but also the retaking of territory by the Assad regime and its allies, Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah, striking as much fear in the heart of many Syrians as did ISIS.

You can read the minister’s remarks on the APPG Friends of Syria website.

Syria Solidarity UK believes the UK still has the capacity to act to protect Syria’s civilians, and has a duty to defend international humanitarian law, which has in so many cases been shredded in Syria, including it would seem by our own allies.

We asked the minister for two things:

1. Aid air drops to besieged Eastern Ghouta and other areas;

2. Tracking and publishing of radar information on the aeroplanes bombing civilians.

We need the UK to publish tracking data to hold Putin and Assad to account today, not just in the future. We need to hold them publicly accountable not just for chemical attacks, but for all attacks that target civilians. As long as we have no judicial body to hold them to account, we need the UK and others to present as much evidence to the public as possible, so that all the peoples of the world can demand their governments do their part.

On aid airdrops, feeding all 400,000 people under siege in Eastern Ghouta by air drops might not seem possible, but the UN did feed some 70,000 people in Deir Ezzor solely by airdrops from February 2016 to September 2017. The UN made over 300 airdrops to Deir Ezzor, including with precision guided JPADS parachutes.

The UN of course refused in 2016 to drop aid to areas besieged by the regime without explicit regime permission, despite all the countries of the ISSG calling on them to do so. The ISSG—the International Syria Support Group—included not just countries like the UK, US, and France; it also included Russia and Iran.

The UK promised at the time that it was prepared to join in dropping aid. On 31 May 2016, the UK Special Representative to Syria Gareth Bayley said:

“Air drops to deliver aid to all designated besieged areas remains a last resort. It is an expensive and complex way to deliver aid. But it is vital that we fulfil this commitment. The UK stands ready to do so.”

This promise on aid airdrops has not been kept by the UK Government.

Of course some feared that manned airdrops might be attacked. Would the Assad regime really have risked the consequences of such an act? After Russia and the regime were allowed to go unpunished for their murderous attack on a UN aid convoy in September 2016, one might well fear that they would.

There are three ways to avoid the risk of attacks on airdrops: One is to make a credible threat of decisive retaliation; another is to drop from high altitude as the UN did for Deir Ezzor; and a third is to use unmanned aerial vehicles—UAVs or drones.

UK and US officials discussed using drones and guided parachutes for aid in the last weeks of the siege of Aleppo, but then as ever they folded in the face of Assad and Putin’s violent aggression.

As recently as January and February, the UK Government was saying that it was still considering using drones for aid airdrops, and yet it stood by as civilians from one town after another were forcibly displaced by Assad, Hezbollah, and Russia.

From Wadi Barada. From Madaya. From Al Waer. Tens of thousands more Syrians were forced from their homes by starvation sieges while the UK did nothing.

Alistair Burt laments the failure to act in 2013. If we continue to stand by while Eastern Ghouta is starved and bombed—if we won’t even drop aid to the starving—how will we look back at this failure to protect civilians in 2017?

Monday 27 November 2017

Rukban camp: Britain and America’s shame

Rukban IDP Camp: Photo via Hammurabi’s Justice

  • The UK’s ally Jordan is blocking humanitarian access to Syrians trapped in Rukban.
  • The UK and US have a military base a few kilometres from 50,000 trapped civilians.
  • As full ground access is denied, the UK should now work with aid agencies to airlift aid directly to the desert camp.

How is it that 50,000 people are trapped without aid in the Syrian desert when there is a Coalition military base right next door?

Rukban camp is located in the desert on the Syrian-Jordanian border, in an area known as the Berm. 50,000 Syrians live there, internally displaced people blocked from fleeing Syria by the Jordanian government, and blocked by the Assad regime and its allies from receiving UN aid inside Syria.

People in Rukban are increasingly desperate. In the last year, there have been only two distributions of UN humanitarian food assistance, and none since June.

Camp residents report that water pollution, high temperatures, unsafe human waste disposal and garbage accumulation have led to major health issues such as diarrhea, fever, bronchitis, bowel inflammation, skin allergies and urinary infections.

Numbers of people at Rukban increased in September when pro-Assad Iranian-led militias advanced against Syrian opposition fighters, and another camp on the border, Hadalat, totally emptied out as people fled to Rukban. More recently, hundreds more have fled to Rukban to escape fighting in Deir Ezzor.

Map: The Carter Center via War on the Rocks

Rukban offers some safety from the Assad regime as it is near Al Tanf base, a military base used by the US and its allies, including until recently the UK, to train local Syrian anti-ISIS fighters. Rukban camp is 16 kilometres from the Tanaf border crossing.

It was at Tanf base that the BBC reported seeing UK special forces inside Syria in Summer 2016. After Russia bombed UK and US trained fighters at Tanf in 2016, the US negotiated a 55 kilometre deconfliction zone.

In 2017, Coalition forces defending the zone struck advancing Iranian-led pro-Assad militias, but allowed them to advance around it and reach the Iraqi border further east. Tanf base—and Rukban camp—are therefore now cut off from the rest of Syria by a pro-regime area of control held mainly by Iranian-led militias.

While the US and UK military regularly supplied their forces inside Syria across the Jordanian border, Jordan has closed that border for civilians.

When an alleged ISIS car bomb killed seven Jordanian border guards in June 2016, Jordan declared the Berm a closed military zone. No longer able to get access, UN agencies agreed a deal in late 2016 giving control of aid to the Jordanian military. Since then aid shipments have been sporadic.

Rukban now has the characteristics of a besieged community, trapped between Jordan’s military and pro-Assad militias. But it is a besieged community with a UK-US military base right next door. Rukban isn’t being bombed like Eastern Ghouta, but the UN clinic for Rukban regularly receives cases of acute malnutrition, including skeletal children.

The UK and US should be able to persuade their close ally Jordan to give reputable NGOs full access to Rukban. The UK and US are leading providers of humanitarian and development aid to Jordan, as well as of military aid.

If the UK and US can’t achieve an urgent and dramatic improvement in ground access, then Rukban is one place where there is no excuse for failing to fly aid in. Unlike other besieged areas in Syria, this area is defended by Coalition air forces. It can be accessed by flying either across the Jordanian or Iraqi borders—both Coalition partners. The UK could start delivering aid directly in days if not hours.

The UK’s excuses for failing to deliver air drops to Eastern Ghouta today, and to all the besieged areas that have fallen to Assad through 2016 and 2017, have been miserably weak. But in failing the 50,000 people trapped in Rukban, the UK has no excuse at all.

Thursday 23 November 2017

Syria Civil Defence statement on the Riyadh 2 peace talks

Syria Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, yesterday issued a statement on the current talks in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in which they called for the implementation of international resolutions to be given priority over more talks. First protect civilians, because only then will a secure peace be possible.

Read the full statement below.

Right: Alaa Addin Juha, Syria Civil Defence volunteer killed on Sunday 19 November by an Assad forces’ cluster bomb attack in the town of Hamouriya, part of the besieged Eastern Ghouta area in the suburbs of Damascus.

Above: The funeral of volunteer Alaa Addin Juha.

Monday 20 November 2017

Who bombed Atarib Market last week? The UK’s MoD most likely knows the answer.

At least sixty-five people, including women and children, were killed and up to 100 others were wounded when a busy market in the town of Atarib, Aleppo province, was hit by three consecutive airstrikes, firing a total of six high-explosive rockets, on Monday 13 November 2017.

Atareb is inside what is supposed to be a de-escalation zone agreed between Russia, Turkey, and Iran. The town is known for successfully driving out ISIS in 2014, and resisting extremists ever since. Atareb market was in no way a legitimate military target.

One report by Syrian opposition news site Zaman Al Wasl claimed that a regime Su-24 bombed al-Atareb, that it flew from T4 airbase, and that the pilot was Zuhair Ahmed Ibrahim, leader of Squadron 19.

Yesterday Syrians for Truth and Justice published a report saying that two Russian jets were most likely responsible:
At 14:00 pm, on Monday 13 November 2013, two aircrafts likely to belong to the Russian Air Force took off from Hmeimim Military Base (Basil al-Assad Airport) located in Jablah city in Latakia province, passed the Latakia Mountains range and headed east, and then deviated northwards and crossed Jabal al-Zawiya area through the skies of Idlib city, after that, they returned to the east until they reached the southern countryside of Aleppo, and to the north until they reached Khan Tuman town, and then headed westward, until they became in the skies of the northwest countryside of Aleppo, heading south towards to Atarib. Mohammed Bakkor, the supervisor of Atarib Observatory, which monitors and controls the movement of warplanes in the city’s skies through special surveillance devices, confirmed this. The Observatory transports such information to the Civil Defense teams through radios and to civilians in order to shelter from aerial bombardments. Mohammed added:

‘When the two Russian aircrafts became inside the area of operation, one of them carried out the first raid on the popular market in the middle of Atarib at 14:08 pm. Immediately, the other Russian aircraft carried out the second raid on the market 14:12 pm, and then the first aircraft turned and returned to the city's skies to target the market in the third raid. After that, the two aircrafts returned to Hmeimim Military Base.’

Which is correct? Were the people of Atareb killed and maimed by the Syrian Air Force flying out of T4 or by the Russian Air Force flying out of Khmeimim?

Most likely members of the US-led Coalition, including the UK’s Ministry of Defence, know the answer. The Coalition tracks military aircraft across Syria, coordinating information at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. Michael R Gordon described the command centre there, ‘offering a rare glimpse into how the military plans and orchestrates the complex ballet of strike, surveillance and refuelling aircraft,’ in a May 2017 report:
Today, the American-led command center at this heavily secured base oversees air operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and other potential hot spots in the Middle East. The cavernous operations centre is crammed with liaison officers from countries in the American-led coalition, the American military services, intelligence experts and officers who plan and direct the missions.

The challenge in operating in Syria’s crowded airspace is clear from a glance at a large video screen inside the center that tracks aircraft across the region. Russian and Syrian planes are marked with yellow and orange icons; American and allied planes are delineated in green while civilian aircraft are blue.

In 2016, both Conservative and Labour MPs called for the UK to publish radar data on attacks against civilians. Ministers rejected these calls saying the information was ‘not appropriate to publish’ or ‘would be likely to prejudice the capability, effectiveness or security of the Armed Forces.’

These objections are nonsensical. The UK’s military publicly advertises its capacity to track military aircraft. The Royal Navy’s Type 45 Destroyers use S1850M long range radar, able to track up to 1,000 air targets at a range of around 400 km. An RAF E-3D Sentry’s radar can scan distances of over 300 nautical miles. It can detect low-flying aircraft within 215 nmls (400 km).

The culture of reflexive military secrecy in the UK is standing in the way of accountability in Syria.

Since those Parliamentary questions were tabled, the US military has broken with its previous secrecy to publish tracking data showing the flight path of the Syrian jet responsible for the 4 April 2017 chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun.

It is time for the UK Government to put accountability first. Every day in Syria, ceasefires and de-escalation agreements are flouted, civilians are targeted, and no-one is held to account.
  • Publish the radar tracking data.
  • Name those responsible for war crimes.
  • Sanction the violators.

Read more about how to protect civilians here.

Chemical weapons attack in Eastern Ghouta follows Russian double veto of UN-OPCW investigation

Photo via UK at the UN

On Saturday 18 November, a chemical attack targeted opposition fighters on the front lines in Harasta, Eastern Ghouta. Medical staff confirmed symptoms include vomiting, dyspnea, and pinpoint pupils, indicating a nerve agent was used.

The attack came the day after Russia’s second Security Council veto in 24 hours blocking an extension of the UN-OPCW joint investigation of chemical attacks in Syria.

Watch a video in English of a doctor with patients after the attack here.

The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) reported that ‘a SAMS facility in East Ghouta began receiving patients suffering from constricted pupils, coughing, vomiting, and bradypnea (abnormally slow breathing), all of which are symptoms indicative to exposure to chemical compounds. The victims reported that they were exposed to a substance following an artillery strike. Of the 61 individuals exposed to the substance, 15 required hospitalization, including 11 who were admitting to SAMS facilities.’

Besieged Eastern Ghouta is home to about 400,000 people, and is currently suffering an escalation in regime attacks which is being compared to the disastrous assault on Aleppo city last year.

The SAMS report continues: ‘The situation in East Ghouta continues to deteriorate. According to the local health directorate, between Tuesday, November 14 and Friday, November 17, 2017, airstrikes and artillery strikes resulted in 84 casualties, including 23 women and children, as well as 659 injuries. Many of these attacks took place in residential areas, where the victims were primarily civilians, and where hospitals and schools were among the affected infrastructure. In addition, there are more than 450 individuals in need of urgent medical evacuation, more than 72 % of children under the age of five are in need of nutrition support. Medical supplies to treat illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, hemophilia and many other chronic diseases have long since run out.’

Eastern Ghouta has been declared a de-escalation zone by Russia, Turkey, and Iran, and opposition armed groups inside Eastern Ghouta have signed ceasefire agreements negotiated with Russia, but the Assad regime, apparently with full Russian support, is increasing attacks against civilians while continuing to restrict aid.

Russia’s ceasefires and de-escalation promises have proved worthless.

Russia has shut off the UN route with its double veto.

The only way to stop Assad using chemical weapons is to ground Assad’s air force, silence Assad’s artillery, by deterrence and targeted retaliation against regime military assets.

The UK failed the people of Eastern Ghouta in 2013 when Parliament voted against any response to Assad’s chemical weapons massacre. Will the UK again fail the survivors of that massacre in 2017?

Friday 17 November 2017

Assad’s air force just murdered three more White Helmets rescue volunteers

  • The UK can and should act to end Assad’s chemical, air, and artillery attacks against civilians.
  • The UK can and should deliver aid to besieged areas using airdrops.

Assad’s air force just murdered three more White Helmets rescue volunteers

Mohammed Alaya, Mohamed Haymour, and Ahmad Kaeika; three White Helmets rescue volunteers were deliberately killed today when Assad’s air force targeted Syria Civil Defence in Douma, a neighbourhood in the besieged Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus.

What’s happening in East Ghouta

Eastern Ghouta was one of the areas targeted by Assad’s August 2013 Sarin nerve agent attacks which killed between 1,200 and 1,700 people.

Since then, Eastern Ghouta has been under siege by the Assad regime.  Around 400,000 people have lived under air and artillery attacks, the blocking of food and medical aid, the blocking of medical evacuations, as well as an end to free movement and the blocking of all normal commercial traffic.

From late 2014, smuggling tunnels connected East Ghouta to opposition-held neighbourhoods Qaboun and Barzeh, but these areas fell to regime forces in early 2017. Today, bread in East Ghouta costs 11 times more than in nearby Damascus.

In October, shocking images of malnourished children emerged. Obeida, an infant, died on 21st October. Sahar, a girl 34 days old, died on 22nd October, due to an intestinal infection and related acute malnutrition. Three year old Mohammad Abd al-Salem died on 27th October.

UNICEF estimate more than 1,100 children are suffering from acute malnutrition.

Friday 3 November 2017

The BBC, the conspiracy theorist, and the Shadow Foreign Secretary

By Clara Connolly

Did Panorama fake an air attack on schoolchildren in Syria?

The BBC Panorama documentary ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ was first shown on 30th September 2013. Travelling with British doctors inside Syria, BBC Panorama’s journalists witnessed first-hand the effects of an August 2013 Assad regime incendiary attack on a school in Aleppo province.

Now Emily Thornberry, Shadow Foreign Secretary, has raised a complaint about the programme to the BBC on behalf of a constituent, one Robert Stuart.

Ever since it was first broadcast the BBC’s report has been under attack by supporters of the Assad regime, none more tenacious than the same Robert Stuart, who has been obsessing about this one programme for four years on a blog hyped by an RT programme in 2015 as a ‘massive public investigation which made some extremely disturbing findings.’

Speaking to an audience of 500 in central London on 19th October at an event held by Frome Stop War, an organisation noted for its pro Assad stance and not recognised by Stop the War Coalition, Robert Stuart baldly asserted that the 2013 air attack and its effects, as shown in the BBC programme, were fabricated. His presentation was introduced as a ‘master class in analysis.’

At a time of widespread cynicism about the mainstream media (some of it deserved) even the most preposterous conspiracy theory (as this is) can be amplified by dubious but effective sources—especially on social media—into something that becomes accepted as truth, simply because of its frequent repetition.

Syrian activists and humanitarians, especially when attempting to expose the crimes of Assad, have been among the main targets of this vicious war on the facts. Robert Stuart’s attack is not just on the BBC—it is also yet another heartless smear on humanitarians, this time on doctors doing an impossibly dangerous job in a conflict zone.

Friday 27 October 2017

My Last Days in Aleppo: With Waad and Dr Hamza Al Kateab

The SOAS Syria Society is hosting a discussion with Waad Al-Khateab and Dr Hamza Al-Khateab this coming Thursday evening.

Waad al-Khateab is a multi-award winning film maker who is best-known for her series of ‘Inside Aleppo’ films for Channel 4 News.

Dr Hamza al-Khateab is a Syrian doctor who moved to Eastern Aleppo in 2011. He was the director of the biggest hospital in then-besieged Eastern Aleppo before its fall at the end of 2016.

They were in one of the last convoys to leave Eastern Aleppo in December 2016.

Waad and Hamza will be discussing their experience of siege, and comparing it to the current situation in eastern Ghouta where once again we see child deaths due to an enforced starvation siege by the Assad regime.

Event details:

My Last Days in Aleppo: With Waad and Dr Hamza Al Kateab
Thursday 2nd November, 7.30 to 9 pm.
Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre (BGLT), SOAS University of London, 10 Thornhaugh Street, London WC1H 0XG.

Facebook event page.

Watch Waad’s films on Channel 4’s Inside Aleppo website.

Tuesday 17 October 2017

A message from the women of Idlib

First published by Women Now for Development

We, the women of Idlib, address the world today as part of a campaign to stand in solidarity with our people. We raise our voices on behalf of all civilians in Idlib to protect our children and families in the dangerous situation we face today. We raise our voices for the 2.9 million people in Idlib, including all those displaced from other parts of Syria to our region.

The province had witnessed a period of peace after the cease-fire agreement throughout Syria, which came into force on 30 December 2016 under the Turkish-Russian guarantee and an international monitoring mechanism.

We recall when that peace was broken by the massacre at Khan Sheikhoun, when the Syrian regime bombed the city with internationally banned weapons on 4 April 2017. It killed nearly 100 people and injured more than 400, a violation of international humanitarian law, particularly the four Geneva Conventions and their Protocols and conventions banning the use of internationally prohibited weapons.

On 19 September 2017, the Syrian regime and its allies bombed several villages and towns in Idlib, killing at least 136 people, including 23 children and 24 women, and about 64 incidents of attacks on vital civilian structures were recorded: 10 hospitals, 6 schools, 16 civil defence centres run by the White Helmets. The number of raids in eight days reached 714 and 13 explosive barrel bombs were dropped.

To end this spiral of war crimes and violations against civilians, we demand:
  1. The international community and all international and human rights organizations to take responsibility and stand in solidarity with the people of Idlib, and to put pressure to protect civilians and ensure their families’ safety.
  2. Fighting parties inside Syria, and their international allies, take immediate steps to end the attacks and to protect life-saving medical facilities and the infrastructure of civilian life, such as schools and community centres, which provide basic services and assistance to the citizens of Idlib.
All of our demands are summarized in the implementation of the Geneva 1 Accord and the relevant international resolutions, including resolution 2254, paragraphs 12/13/14/15, on the humanitarian file regarding the immediate cessation of attacks against civilians, the prevention of the indiscriminate use of weapons, and the protection of installations under Additional Protocol II to Geneva conventions, 1977.

We also call on the armed opposition factions to leave the urban areas and to not take shelter in civilian areas or use the civilian population as a human shield in the conflict.

By addressing you today, we try to shine a light on the horror and fear we have over our fate and the fate of our families. We call upon civil society organizations and anyone who wants to contribute to stopping our tragedy by standing with the people of Idlib to endorse  this statement and share it with those who have the power to make a difference. We do not want to experience the same tragedy that took place in Aleppo, as Idlib has become the last resort for all those fleeing violence and those who have been forcibly displaced.

Finally, we would like to remind the world that the fight against terrorism cannot be used as a pretext for the bombing, killing and forced displacement of civilians. As women activists on the ground in Idlib, we fight everyday against extremist ideology by spreading knowledge and education. Allowing such war crimes under the name of fighting terrorism is terrorism itself.

This letter has been written by 40 women in Idlib, who would like to draw attention to the situation on the ground. They are women’s right activists and leaders in their community, but above all they are civilians. They have been supported by Women Now For Development, a Syrian non-governmental organisation established in 2012.

Friday 29 September 2017

Jeremy Corbyn – Break your silence on Syria

Cross-posted from Together For Syria.

A group of twelve UK-based Syrian advocacy and community organisations submitted a letter today to Jeremy Corbyn MP regretting his lack of mention of the Syrian conflict in his Labour Party Conference speech on 27 September and inviting him to meet and discuss how Labour can best support Syrians who are still campaigning for basic human rights.

The text of the letter:

Dear Jeremy Corbyn,

We are a group of UK-based Syrian organisations writing to express increased concern regarding your rhetoric—and non-rhetoric—on Syria.

In your celebrated speech on 27 September at the Labour Party Conference, you emphasised, ‘We must put our values at the heart of our foreign policy. Democracy and human rights are not an optional extra to be deployed selectively.’ You went on to condemn Saudi action in Yemen (and the UK’s role in providing arms), the authoritarian regimes of Egypt and Bahrain, the violence and abuses in the Congo and against the Rohingya in Myanmar, and the oppression of the Palestinian people.

No mention, however, about Syria. Are Syrian lives not worthy of your mention?

Syria has witnessed an escalation of violence over the past ten days by Assad and Russian forces which targeted at least six hospitals, five civil defence centres, power stations, and camps for displaced persons. This strategy is reminiscent of the ‘starve or surrender’ military campaigns employed by Assad and Russia against East Aleppo, Homs, Daraya, and other cities which culminated with the forcible displacement of their residents.

Additionally, military operations by the International Coalition against ISIS, of which the UK is a leading member, has held increased disregard for civilian life since Trump assumed the US presidency. In fact, the Syrian Network for Human Rights documented that International Coalition forces killed more civilians in the month of August than any other party in Syria. As a leading member of the Coalition, the UK has a responsibility to ensure that Coalition actions are accountable to human rights standards.

In light of these pertinent developments in Syria, it is a shame that you could not spare even one sentence in your speech to remind your followers of the tragic situation inflicting civilians within the country.

Although the Labour Party Conference has concluded, Labour’s work on international issues will inevitably remain ongoing. Therefore, we implore you to make civilian protection in Syria a focus of your foreign policy agenda. We call on you to condemn the violence employed by Assad and Russia as well as the disregard to the laws of international humanitarian law on behalf of the International Coalition. We call on you to recognise and to praise the democratic grassroots initiatives within Syrian civil society, and to recognise the heroic work of the White Helmets in saving lives.

Perhaps one of the greatest let-downs for the Syrian people is that those such as yourself with purportedly progressive and internationalist agendas have chosen not to amplify their calls for freedom and dignity. Please do more to restore their confidence.

We invite you to meet with us to discuss how the Labour Party could best support the Syrians who are still campaigning for basic human rights.

Dr. Haytham Alhamwi, Rethink Rebuild Society
Dr. Fadel Moghrabi, Peace and Justice for Syria
Reem Assil, Syrian Platform for Peace
Mazen Ejbaei, Help 4Syria UK
Dr. Amer Masri, Scotland4Syria
Dr. Batool Abdulkareem, Syria Solidarity UK
Abdullah Alobwany, Oxford for Syria
Dr. Bachar Hakim, Syrian Society of Nottinghamshire
Dr. Sharif Kaf Al-Ghazal, Syrian Association of Yorkshire
Dr. Mohammad Tammo, Kurds House
Nicholas Sebley, Labour Party member
Dr. Abdullah Hanoun, Syrian Community of the South East

Thursday 3 August 2017

Syrian groups complain that other countries are hijacking UN peace talks

Read the Guardian report by Patrick Wintour here.

Full letter below.

PDF version.

Mr. Staffan de Mistura
United Nations Special Envoy for Syria
UN Secretary General
Members of the UN Security Council
Envoys of the International Syria Support Group
EU Ambassadors to the Political and Security Committee

2 August 2017

Your Excellency,
Following the seventh round of peace negotiations, we write to you on behalf of the undersigned Syrian civil society organisations who work every day under unbearable circumstances to improve the living conditions of millions of Syrians. We represent the voices from the ground and our work across the country in the fields of medical and humanitarian assistance, education, freedom of expression, youth and women empowerment, and accountability and justice proves again the fundamental role Syrian civil society plays as a champion for a democratic and inclusive Syria.

As a vital resource for the Syrian population trapped between a tyrannical regime and the brutality of extremism, Syrian civil society organisations strongly support any efforts to bring an end to the Syria conflict. This is why many of our representatives have participated in the intra-Syrian peace talks within the framework of the Civil Society Support Room and have been active in supporting the Geneva peace talks between the Syrian opposition and the Syrian regime.

Sadly, the Geneva process has delivered neither peace nor protection to the Syrian people who are increasingly disillusioned with a process that continues to fail them. We are keen to reverse this trend as without the support of Syrian civil society no political deal will be either sustainable or legitimate, and right now the current process is losing our support. Syrian civil society’s priority is to achieve an inclusive transition to a free and democratic Syria. We are all united around this outcome which defines the basis of the Geneva peace process as set out by UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and as reiterated in your mandate as UN Special Envoy for Syria.

We expect all parties in Geneva—including you—to work for this purpose and engage in serious negotiations. The time consumed on discussions around process and representation, at the expense of a credible and realistic political deal for transition towards democracy, is not only wasting precious time but it is also undermining the international community’s efforts to fight terrorism in Syria. Syrian civil society activities are essential in the fight against extremism. Moderate voices—as we represent—have the power to push back against the extremist forces and fill the vacuum on the ground. But to be able to do so, we need the international community to protect our ability to assist and serve our people. This is why we need the Geneva process to prioritise the protection of civilians and deliver meaningful negotiations that lead to peace for Syria.

Wednesday 2 August 2017

On the loss of Bassel Khartabil Safadi

By Families for Freedom

It’s with deep sorrow that we learned last night of the execution of Bassel Khartabil Safadi. Bassel was a hero to the members of our movement, to many communities around the world and to all Syrians. But we also knew him as someone else—Noura’s husband. He was the disappeared love of a co-founder of our movement. We watched her fight to free him, we listened to her talk about their deep love and the beautiful moments they shared. We stand in solidarity with you our dearest Noura. Noura your loss today is a loss for all Syria, for all mothers, fathers, husbands, wives and brothers and sisters. It’s a loss for every Syrian family.

Bassel was a free soul who worked to bring change to his country and we, along your side, will continue his journey. Bassel will remain a role model for our children and grandchildren. Like all of our missing loved ones, he was a believer in peace, education and innovation as the only means by which Syria can be rebuilt. Unfortunately, in Syria it is these very people that are the ones who are being taken away from us. We will carry their beliefs that change can only happen by these means, and through dialogue and peaceful activism and not through violence.

Last night was a difficult night for us and many other Syrian families with loved ones who are detained or disappeared. Fear and sadness gripped our hearts with your news and we felt as if our wounds had been reopened.

When we last met you said ‘We should not give up.’ Stay strong Noura. Continue to be Noura that we know, an advocate for the freedom of all detainees. Your positive spirit and laughs has kept us going at very difficult times and you are vital to our movement and to our cause. We were dreaming of the day when we could celebrate with you and Bassel and with all our loved ones around. Today we mourn with you. It’s our right to do so. Then we will continue.

First posted on the Families for Freedom Facebook page.

See also:
Families for Freedom campaign for the release of people detained in Syria, including their own family members:
We are Syrian families demanding freedom for all the country’s sons and daughters. These demands are not just for our own families, but for every Syrian family with a detainee. Our position is against enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention by the Syrian regime and all parties to the conflict. We want to mobilise the public to pressure all sides to comply with our demands. We will continue to expand our collective effort to include the largest number of families, regardless of their affiliations.

Tuesday 1 August 2017

Airdrops for Raqqa: The UK has a responsibility to thousands of civilians trapped without food or water

Between 10,000 and 50,000 civilians are trapped in Raqqa without food or fresh water.

Food access in Raqqa is now at ‘a critical turning point,’ aid organisations said Monday.

The assault on the ISIS-held city is a joint operation by the International Coalition and their partners on the ground, the SDF.

The UK is a leading member of the Coalition. The Coalition, including the UK have a responsibility to do all they can to protect civilians caught in the fighting.

The UK should organise RAF airdrops of food and water to trapped civilians NOW.

On 23 July, Maj. Gen. Rupert Jones, British deputy commander of the coalition, told reporters in Ain Issa north of Raqqa that ‘it is really important as Raqqa is liberated that all sides focus on the protection of civilians.’

Protecting civilians is both a moral imperative and also a strategic necessity in order to defeat extremist ideologyof ISIS and Al Qaeda.

On 11 January and again on 22 February, Secretary of State for International Development Priti Patel told the House of Commons that the Government was ‘examining all options for getting aid into besieged areas in Syria,’ including the possibility of using drones to deliver aid directly.

In Raqqa the siege is being imposed by the Coalition, not Assad, and the UK’s responsibility to act is unquestionable.

Government ministers directly concerned with Syria such as Tobias Ellwood and Alistair Burt are proud of the UK’s record on Syria aid, amounting to a commitment of over £2.46 billion. In Raqqa however, the UK has a direct role in the circumstances of people’s suffering and has the capacity through airdrops to provide direct relief.

Will the Coalition and the UK Government in particular now live up to their responsibilities?

The choices they make now will be remembered by Syrians for a long time to come.


The UN estimates 20,000 to 50,000 people remain inside Raqqa city.

REACH Initiative estimates between 10,000 and 25,000 civilians remain trapped.

Since the start of the International Coalition’s final assault on the ISIS-held city, many thousands have escaped, despite ISIS minefields and Coalition air attacks. Hundreds of civilians have been killed or wounded by artillery and air attacks.

According to REACH Initiative, the many thousands of civilians still trapped now rely entirely on whatever food stores they have saved. Refrigerators don’t work because there is little or no electricity. Bread is no longer available anywhere in Raqqa city.

Residents can no longer access water from the Euphrates River because of the tightening siege. Residents rely almost exclusively on neighbourhood boreholes, many of which have been dug recently. These produce limited amounts of water due to insufficient electricity to run boring machines and water pumps. The water produced is also reportedly not fit for drinking, according to REACH.

Médecins Sans Frontières report that ‘large numbers of sick and wounded people are trapped inside Raqqa city with little or no access to medical care and scant chance of escaping the city.’

According to REACH,  informal clinics set up by civilians and not staffed by professionals are reportedly operating in a very limited capacity in the central neighbourhoods of Raqqa. They  have only the most basic of medical supplies.

Airstrikes and reduction in critical supplies are the greatest threats to the safety and well-being of those remaining in Raqqa, REACH reports. Monitoring organisation Airwars estimates that at least 340 civilians in Raqqa were likely killed by Coalition strikes and artillery in June. As many as 119 children were among those killed since June 6th.

Wednesday 26 July 2017

Syria’s Disappeared: UK screenings

We are organising a series of screenings across the UK of the film Syria’s Disappeared: The case against Assad.

This documentary tells the hidden story of tens of thousands of men, women and children disappeared by the regime of Bashar al Assad into a network of clandestine detention centres.

The film weaves together powerful personal stories of three Syrians with evidence gathered from regime documents smuggled out of Syria.

With unprecedented access, we follow survivors of detention, families of detainees, regime defectors and international war crimes investigators as they fight to bring the perpetrators to justice and desperately campaign for the release of the disappeared.

In solidarity with staff of the Picturehouse cinema chain we are cancelling Friday’s screening of Syria’s Disappeared, scheduled for 28 July 6.30pm at the Hackney Attic, London.

Picturehouse staff are campaigning for the voluntary living wage. Union organisers have been sacked, and campaigners have called for a boycott of the Picturehouse chain.

This screening was planned as one of a series we are arranging in the UK. Our next scheduled screening is on 9 September, 3.30pm at The Electric Palace Cinema, Hastings.

We would very much welcome offers of other venues in London and across the UK to show this very important document of some of the crimes of the Assad regime.

Upcoming screenings, with more to be announced:

The Electric Palace Cinema, Hastings
9 September, 3.30pm
Electric Palace Cinema, 39a High Street, Hastings TN34 3ER
In association with Syria Solidarity UK
Booking details

The Heath Citizens Centre, Cardiff
16 September, time to be confirmed
The Heath Citizens Centre, off King George V Drive, Cardiff CF14 4EP
In association with the Syrian Welsh Society

Tuesday 18 July 2017

The mistreatment of Syrian refugees in Lebanon

We are increasingly worried about threats to Syrian refugees in Lebanon after the deaths of four Syrians in custody of the Lebanese Army.

Read more about the case:

Lebanese authorities have banned public protests over the deaths:

The following letter has been signed by several Syrian community groups in the UK. We invite further signatures from UK refugee and human rights groups.

PDF version.

The mistreatment of Syrian refugees in Lebanon

The Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
The Rt Hon Priti Patel MP, Secretary of State for International Development
The Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon MP, Secretary of State for Defence
H.E Ambassador Inaam Osseiran

We are writing to you to express our grave concerns over the mistreatment of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Late last month, the Lebanese authorities began a campaign of persecution against Syrian refugees in the country. On 30 June, the Lebanese army raided the Arsal refugee camp, arresting 400 refugees at random. A few days later the bodies of at least three of those refugees were returned to their families. They had reportedly been tortured to death by the Lebanese army.

One of the dead was a Syrian nurse and anaesthetist, Anas al-Husaiki, who had previously treated casualties of the war inside Syria. Human Rights Watch has called for ‘a formal, transparent and independent investigation’ of the deaths. Reuters has subsequently reported that a Lebanese military prosecutor ordered forensics to examine the bodies of four Syrians who died in army custody. The Syrian National Coalition has said as many as ten people died in custody.

The rest of the refugees detained in Arsal refugee camp are still in Lebanese prisons. Lawyer Fahd Al-Mousa has said that they are now ‘undergoing the worst forms of torture’ by Lebanese security forces. According to some reports, around 5,000 Syrian men and women are imprisoned in Lebanon either by the Lebanese government or Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia fighting alongside the Assad regime in Syria.

Syrians believe the Lebanese government wants to keep quiet its crimes against refugees in Lebanon. It seems that Lebanese authorities have adopted a policy of intimidating and terrifying Syrian refugees, forcing them back to Assad-regime held areas of Syria where they face an uncertain fate. Only public pressure from around the world can bring a halt to these actions.

The UK is spending millions helping train the Lebanese army, with £15 million for border guard training and £4.5 million for general training announced last year.

The UK’s Secretary of State for International Development Priti Patel visited Lebanon earlier this year, meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and touring Syrian refugee camps. She also reaffirmed that the UK will continue to invest £160 millions over four years in education in Lebanon.

The Lebanese authorities’ latest actions against Syrian refugees seriously cast doubt on their suitability to be direct recipients of UK aid and military support.

The international community must work to ensure to the safety and protection of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. We call on the UK government to urgently raise the issue of the detention, torture, and killing of Syrian refugees with the Lebanese government.

Syrian refugees detained in Lebanon must be charged or released immediately and the International Committee of the Red Cross and international human rights organisations should be able to visit them and monitor the conditions of their detention.

There should be an independent international investigation into the reported torture and killing of these refugees, and those responsible must be held to account.

Amr Salahi, Syria Solidarity UK
Dr Haytham Alhamwi, Rethink Rebuild Society
Mazen Ejbaei, Help 4Syria
Reem Assil, Syrian Platform for Peace
Dr Amer Masri, Scotland4Syria
Dr Bachar Hakim, Syrian Society of Nottinghamshire
Dr Mohammad Alhadj Ali, Syrian Welsh Society
Dr Abdullah Hanoun, Syrian Community South West
Dr Fadel Moghrabi, Peace and Justice for Syria
Ros Ereira, Solidarity with Refugees

Thursday 29 June 2017

On David Davis, and understanding the Syrian regime

Early in 2016 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.

Friday 23 June 2017

France must deliver on its commitment to the Syrian people

Via Save Our Syria

The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) urges French President Emmanuel Macron to protect the Syrian people against all indiscriminate and unlawful attacks, and take action—including airdrops—to ensure immediate humanitarian access. Doing so is the best way to ensure the defeat of terrorism.

‘Europe will never be secure until the root cause of the conflict is addressed—Assad’s calculated brutality against innocent civilians,’ said SNHR Chairman Fadel Abdul Ghany. ‘The Assad regime is overwhelmingly responsible for the relentless aerial bombardment, torture, disappearances, besiegement, and forced displacement that has created the conditions in which terrorism can thrive. A war criminal cannot be a partner in peace.’

‘The ultimate partner—for both peace and the defeat of terrorism are civilians: we will implement any peace deal; and we are the ones that have ousted ISIS during pauses in bombardment. We need permanent protection from Assad's bombardment to push ISIS out for good.’

SNHR’s research shows that over 92% of all civilian deaths since March 2011 were caused by the Assad regime not ISIS or other terror groups.

​‘Millions of Syrians are counting on President Macron to deliver on the red lines he declared in May – to impose consequences for the indiscriminate use of weapons against civilians and to take all necessary measures such as airdrops to ensure humanitarian access to besieged communities across Syria. France must be prepared to act unilaterally if joint international action is not possible,’ Mr Abdul Ghany continued.

‘Whether he uses barrel bombs, chemical weapons, starvation or torture, Assad’s actions are war crimes. If chemical weapons are unacceptable to France, then Assad must also be,’ Mr Abdul Ghany concluded.

Founded in 2011, the Syrian Network for Human Rights is an independent, non-partisan, non-governmental, non-profit organisation, documenting human rights violations in Syria. Find out more at sn4hr.org

Save Our Syria (SOS) is a platform for Syrian civil society and humanitarian groups to pursue Syrian-led solutions to the Syrian crisis. Find out more at www.saveoursyria.org

Friday 16 June 2017

Jo Cox’s compassion on Syria had no borders—nor should ours

By Dr Yasmine Nahlawi, Dr Mohammad Isreb and Kellie Strom

First published by the i paper

Today marks the first anniversary of the murder of Jo Cox, who was a great friend, a beautiful soul, and a true humanitarian.

While the entire country grieves for Jo, for Syrians in the UK her death represents a double blow.

In Jo we lost a voice for tolerance and inclusion, a voice to counter racism and xenophobia.

Syrian refugees particularly appreciated her strong compassion, which lives on in the Jo Cox Foundation’s support for Hope Not Hate, and in the Great Get Together events marking this anniversary.

But for Jo, supporting refugees was not enough. She also wanted to help those Syrians still inside Syria, the ones unable to escape.

• Supporting Syrians

She supported Syria Civil Defence, the rescuers known as the White Helmets. In parliament, Jo made one central demand: protect civilians. She didn’t just sympathise with Syrians, she fought for their rights with relentless passion.

Many on both the left and the right are content with the UK’s role in accepting refugees, delivering humanitarian aid, and fighting only ISIS.

But Jo understood that the refugee crisis, the humanitarian crisis, and the terrorism threat all stemmed from a single atrocity: Bashar al-Assad’s war against those Syrian civilians who opposed his rule.

Jo rejected the suggestion that we ‘need to make a choice between dealing with either Assad or ISIS.’ She recognised that ‘Assad is ISIS’s biggest recruiting sergeant, and as long as his tyranny continues, so too will ISIS’s terror.’

She advocated a comprehensive approach to Syria involving humanitarian, diplomatic, and military measures.

• More than words

Those three aspects of UK policy—diplomatic, military, humanitarian—remain out of sync. British diplomats demand an end to the killing, but have nothing to give force to their words.

Britain’s military focuses only on ISIS, constrained from acting to stop Assad’s bombing, or even from acting when Assad uses chemical weapons.

Britain’s aid workers deliver record amounts of aid, but don’t have the backing from government to do aid airdrops to besieged communities.

An ever-worsening situation for civilians in Syria and refugees outside Syria is matched by a strengthening of pro-Assad forces dominated by militias, by Iran’s foreign fighters, and by Hezbollah, who are a growing terrorist threat.

ISIS is pushed back, but there is no end to terror in sight.

Jo’s analysis has proven true: fail to protect civilians and we fail by every other measure.

• Where are we now?

Jo would have been utterly disappointed to see that her calls for a no-bombing zone and aid drops, including in her last speech as an MP, were ignored.

The UK has stood by as residents of cities such as Daraya and East Aleppo were forced from their homes by starvation sieges and air attacks.

She would have been horrified by the chemical attack on the city of Khan Sheihoun in April, and by the continued daily bombardment of hospitals and residential areas by Assad and Putin, most recently in Daraa.

What would she have thought of the US strike in response to the chemical attack?

She did call for the UK to use the threat of just such a targeted response as a deterrent, not just against chemical attacks but against all bombing of civilians.

Her aim would have been to stop the killing, not to stop just one type of weapon.

• Jo’s legacy on Syria

Jo would clearly have found it unacceptable that the International Coalition against ISIS is now itself killing hundreds of civilians in Syria, outpacing even Assad and Russia’s toll in the month of May. The Coalition even reportedly used white phosphorous on the city of Raqqah.

The RAF is not implicated in these escalating killings. But as UK Syrians recently wrote to the Prime Minister, the UK is ‘a major partner in the Coalition, with a British officer as deputy commander, and therefore carries joint responsibility for such actions.’

In the aftermath of her murder, Jo’s brave and passionate work for Syria was praised by UK political leaders from both major parties. The reality, however, is that her legacy on Syria has not been honoured in Westminster.

• Compassion without borders

In reflecting on today’s anniversary, let us renew our commitment to the ideals to which Jo pledged her life.

Let us embrace our diversity as a country and advocate for tolerance. And let us make a fresh start for Syria with civilian protection at the core of our policy.

Let us ensure accountability for our own actions and those of our allies. Let us listen to Syrians, and work for a solution that respects Syrians’ rights and enables them to enjoy a peaceful future in a free Syria.

Jo’s ideals and her compassion were not limited by borders. Let them not limit ours.

Dr Yasmine Nahlawi is Research and Policy Coordinator for Rethink Rebuild Society, a Manchester-based Syrian advocacy and community organisation.

Dr Mohammad Isreb is a member of the Syrian Association of Yorkshire.

Kellie Strom is Secretariat to the Friends of Syria All-Party Parliamentary Group and a member of Syria Solidarity UK.

Saturday 3 June 2017

How to plug the manifesto gaps on Syria

By Clara Connolly

What do the election manifestos say on Syria, a crucial issue for any future government? There are some surprises: I’ll highlight policies for each party below, before trying to identify the gaps and outline some proposals from UK Syrian groups (but more widely supported) which could help to end the conflict.

Thursday 1 June 2017

One year on: The UK’s broken promise on Syria aid airdrops

Photo: Syrian demonstrators at the Foreign Office, London, one year ago.

This time last year, the UK and other ISSG states undertook that they would begin aid airdrops to besieged communities in Syria if the Assad regime continued to block ground access past the 1st of June 2016. We are now one year on from that failed deadline.

The World Food Programme, which has by now flown 250 aid airdrops to regime-held Deir Ezzor, refused to fly aid to areas besieged by Assad unless the regime itself first gave permission.

The UK Government backed away from its commitment, the sieges continued, and the Assad regime and its allies forced the displacement of entire civilian communities, each of thousands and even tens of thousands of people.


In the past year, civilian communities have been forced from their homes in Daraya, Moadamiyeh, Wadi Barada, Al Waer, Madaya, Zabadani, and more, as well as from eastern Aleppo city.

This mass displacement makes the prospect of resolving the refugee crisis ever more distant. Forced displacement creates conditions for future conflict and empowers extremism.

The Global Report on Internal Displacement for 2016 calculates that a further 1.3 million people were displaced in Syria last year, bringing the total to 6.6 million people internally displaced in Syria.

Detailed costed proposals were put forward last year to use unmanned drones for airdrops. These proposals were drawn up by UK experts who had military experience, knowledge of the situation on the ground, and understood both the risks of action and the costs of inaction.

Despite this, Theresa May rejected calls for airdrops.

Over 146,000 people in the UK signed a petition calling for Parliament to debate airdrops. But Theresa May wouldn’t debate the issue.

Humanitarian drones are already delivering medical supplies in Rwanda. Drones for aid could save lives in Syria. The Ministry of Defence is investing £8 million on developing future warfighting drones. The UK must also be able to invest in humanitarian drones, for use in Syria and elsewhere.


This week the new French President Emmanuel Macron declared that for him humanitarian aid access is a red line.

We hope that President Macron’s remarks may now give an opportunity to reopen the call for airdrops here in the UK, with the possibility of France as a partner. Hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians are still under siege and threatened with forced displacement. The Assad regime continues to block medical aid as well as food. There is still a chance to help, and still further risks in continuing failure to help.

• Please do your part to hold the Government to its promise.
• Speak up on the 1st anniversary of the broken aid deadline.
• Call for the UK along with France to commit to aid airdrops.

Syria groups in the UK have drawn up a list of eight pledges on Syria, including on airdrops.
Please use our simple online form to email your local candidates. Ask candidates to support these pledges.

For much more detail on sieges, see the series of reports produced by Siege Watch, a project by The Syria Institute and PAX, the Dutch aid NGO.