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Friday 24 March 2017

Letter to the Prime Minister on the Al Badiya school bombing

Syrian organisations in the UK have today written to the Prime Minister calling for the UK to investigate reports of Coalition responsibility for civilian deaths in al Badiya, and to review the priority the Coalition is giving to civilian protection.

PDF version here.

The Right Honourable Theresa May
Prime Minister
10 Downing Street
London SW1A 2AA

24 March 2017

Dear Ms May,
We were writing this letter about recent incidents in Syria when the shocking events at Westminster occurred, and we wanted before anything else to share the sense of grief and outrage felt across the community.

Without diminishing the tragedy of this event, especially for its victims, it also acts to strengthen our parallel concern for the loss of life arising from certain actions in Syria for which we feel the British government shares some responsibility. There are now credible reports of a Coalition airstrike on the al Badiya school, west of Raqqa, a shelter for many refugee families, with probably at least 50 civilians killed (mainly women and children) with many sources estimating significantly more.

This seems to be part of an emerging pattern of conspicuous disregard for civilian casualties in the current military campaign against ISIS. It includes the attack on the al Jina mosque last week that killed at least 50 civilians, and such incidents seem to be growing. The monitoring group Airwars estimates at least 2,700 innocent men, women and children have been killed in the Coalition’s anti-ISIS bombing campaign thus far.

We are writing to ask the British government to immediately investigate the responsibility for al Badiya, and for similar attacks, to make known its findings and, more broadly, to review the priority the Coalition is giving to civilian protection.

While many of these attacks are conducted by US forces, the UK is a major partner in the Coalition, with a British officer as deputy commander, and therefore carries joint responsibility for such actions. Moreover, we note that the Ministry of Defense has acknowledged that the RAF is conducting bombing operations in the Raqqa area.

We share the all-important aim of ridding Syria of the barbaric ISIS regime along with supporting the democratic opposition to the no less brutal Assad regime. But, unlike such regimes, we must not be indifferent to civilian lives and suffering; those who have lived under ISIS have suffered enough.

We urge the government to demand from the US the halt of the unacceptable loss of civilian life, which is in danger of becoming a distinguishing mark of this campaign.

Yours sincerely,

Fadel Moghrabi, Peace and Justice in Syria
Yasmine Nahlawi, Rethink Rebuild, Manchester
Dr Sharif Kaf–al Ghazal, Syrian Association of Yorkshire
Malcolm Allen, Syria Solidarity UK
Dr Mohammad Alhadj Ali, Syrian Welsh Society
Mazen Ejbaei, Help 4Syria
Dr Amer Masri, Scotland For Syria
Abdullah Hanoun, Syrian Community in the South West
Reem Assil, Syrian Platform for Peace
Dr Bachar Hakim, Syrian Society of Nottinghamshire

Top photo via Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently.

Reply from Tobias Ellwood MP, Minister for the Middle East and Africa

26 April 2017

Dear Syria Solidarity UK,

Thank you for your letter of 24 March to the Prime Minister, about Syria. I am replying as Minister responsible for our relations with the Middle East.

Thank you for your message of condolence following the terrorist attack in London on 22 March. I appreciate your support.

All members of the Coalition do their utmost to minimise the risk of civilian casualties. Reports are taken very seriously and the results of any investigation are published. In the air strikes conducted by the RAF as part of the Coalition air campaign, we have found no evidence of civilian casualties.

We have a comprehensive strategy to defeat Daesh, working as part of the 68 member Global Coalition, in which we continue to play a leading role. The UK, as part of the US led Coalition, remains committed to the counter-Daesh campaign. But we are clear that defeating Daesh will need more than just a military effort. For there to be a genuine peace, Syria needs a transition to a new, inclusive, non-sectarian government. This is critical to being able to sustainably address the terrorist threat.

We remain convinced that long-term peace in Syria requires transition away from the Asad regime, and a political settlement which allows Syria to become a stable, peaceful state with an inclusive government with which we can work to tackle Daesh and other extremists. We support fully the Syrian peace talks taking place under the auspices of UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura in Geneva. The Syrian High Negotiations Committee have demonstrated their commitment tothe political process by adopting a positive approach, agreeing an inclusive delegation and setting out moderate and pragmatic proposals. The regime and its backers must now show the same commitment to achieving a negotiated solution that can bring a sustainable end to this dreadful conflict.

The UK will continue to do all that we can to ensure that a long-term, lasting solution is found to resolve the current crisis in Syria. And in the meantime, we will maintain all efforts to help those people affected by it.

Yours sincerely,
Tobias Ellwood MP
Minister for the Middle East and Africa