Sunday, 31 July 2016

Putin’s bombs are driving refugees out of Syria – Shut Russia out of SWIFT to stop the bombing

Putin’s bombs are driving refugees out of Syria—Shut Russia out of SWIFT to stop the bombing

Putin’s bombers have dropped cluster bombs and firebombs across northern Syria.

Putin and Assad have bombed every hospital they could find.

Now Putin’s siege of Aleppo aims to drive 300,000 refugees out of the city and out of Syria. His plan is to make the refugee crisis even worse.

It is time for the UK and Europe to say enough. Make Putin pay for every day he bombs Syrian towns and cities.

UK: join with EU allies to shut Russia out of the SWIFT* bank payment system NOW.

Putin has already brought war to Ukraine, threatening eastern Europe. Now he is worsening the war on NATO’s southern border.

Letting Putin get away with mass murder will cost the UK and Europe much more than the loss of business from shutting Russia out of SWIFT.

And it will cost all of us our humanity if we stand by and do nothing.


Syria Solidarity UK
Syrian Association of Yorkshire
Rethink Rebuild Society

* SWIFT is the Belgium-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication system. SWIFT has to comply with EU decisions because the organization is incorporated under Belgian law. Read more here.

Cross-posted from Syria Solidarity UK.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

The legacy of Syria


Cross-posted from Syria Solidarity UK

David Cameron now has little time to right a shared legacy of failure on Syria.

Reasons for the UK’s narrow vote to leave the EU are many. One is Syria: Both the Leave campaign and UKIP connected fears over immigration to the Syrian crisis. Assad’s war against Syria’s population has created the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.

In or out of the EU, we have a duty to care for refugees. We also need to understand that this refugee crisis is not caused by EU rules on free movement; it’s caused by the failure of world leaders, including Britain’s leaders, to stop Assad.

Inaction has consequences. At every point when world leaders failed to act against Assad, the impact of the Syrian crisis on the world increased. The failure of British Government and Opposition leaders on the EU vote is in part a consequence of their failure on Syria, but this story doesn’t end with today’s result. Without action, Syria’s crisis will continue to impact on us all.

Leaders failed to act in October 2011 when Syrians took to the streets calling for a no-fly zone.

By the end of 2011 there were 8,000 Syrian refugees in the region.

Leaders failed to act in 2012 when journalists Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik were killed reporting from the horror of besieged Homs.

By the end of 2012, there were nearly half a million Syrian refugees.

Leaders failed to act in 2013 when the Assad regime massacred as many as 1,700 civilians in one morning with chemical weapons. That August, there were 1.8 million registered Syrian refugees.

Also in 2013, the UK failed to act when the Free Syrian Army faced attacks by ISIS forces infiltrating from Iraq. Instead of strengthening the FSA to withstand this new threat, UK MPs denied moderate forces the means to defend themselves.

By the end of 2013, there were 2.3 million registered Syrian refugees.

Leaders failed to act in 2014 as the Assad regime ignored UN resolutions on barrel bombing, on torturing and besieging civilians. Diplomacy without military pressure only emboldened Assad to continue the slaughter.

By the end of 2014, there were 3.7 million Syrian refugees.

Leaders failed to act in 2015 as Russia joined Assad in bombing hospitals, humanitarian aid convoys, and rescue workers, and Syrians were denied any means to defend themselves.

By the end of 2015, there were over 4.5 million Syrian refugees.

Now the UK Government is failing to act as Assad breaks ceasefire agreements and breaks deadlines on letting aid into besieged communities. The UK has failed to deliver on airdrops. The UK has failed to apply serious pressure to stop Assad’s bombs.

There are now 4.8 million Syrian refugees in the region. There are many millions more displaced inside Syria. Just over a million Syrians have applied for asylum in Europe, but that is a fraction of the total who have fled their homes.

The refugee crisis is just one impact of Assad’s war on Syrians. Voting to leave the European Union won’t insulate Britain from further effects of Syria’s man-made disaster. This crisis can’t be contained and must be brought to an end, and it can only end with the end of Assad.

Act now. Break the sieges. Stop the bombs. Stop the torture. Stop Assad.

Monday, 20 June 2016

More In Common: A Worldwide Celebration of Jo Cox

Jo Cox and Andrew Mitchell writing in October 2015:

British forces could help achieve an ethical solution in Syria
Some may think that a military component has no place in an ethical response to Syria. We completely disagree. It is not ethical to wish away the barrel bombs from the Syrian government when you have the capacity to stop them.
Read the whole article.

More In Common: A Worldwide Celebration of Jo Cox

From the Facebook event page:
On Jo Cox’s birthday this Wednesday, show the world that we have far #moreincommon with each other than that which divides us.

Across the world, we will gather together to celebrate Jo’s life, her warmth, love, energy, passion, flair, Yorkshire heritage, and her belief in the humanity of every person in every place, from Batley and Spen to Aleppo and Darayya.

London: 4pm–5pm, Trafalgar Square

Batley and Spen: 4pm–5pm

New York City: 11am–12pm

Washington DC: 11am–12pm

Brussels: 5pm–6pm, Ancienne Belgique

Nairobi: 6pm–7pm

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Ask your MP to support UK humanitarian air drops to Syria

The UK Government, along with other members of the International Syria Support Group, has told the World Food Programme to begin air drops wherever they are needed from 1st June—but the World Food Programme says it will only deliver if the Assad regime gives permission.

The RAF has the resources needed to deliver aid if the World Food Programme won’t.

Call on the Government to deliver on the promise and start UK air drops from 1st June.

If you live in the UK, this app can help you write an email to your MP.

Please ask your MP to support UK humanitarian air drops of food and medical aid to Syria.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

The Problem with Coalition Airstrikes in Syria

Jean-Marie Guéhenno, President & CEO International Crisis Group, writes:
It is impossible to beat IS without tackling the foundation on which it builds its success. The priority must instead be on ending the war in Syria.

Yet today we are faced with a situation where none of the conflicting parties have any interest in negotiations. The rebel groups and their sponsors, the gulf monarchies and Turkey, have noted that the regime keeps loosing territory. They hope that it will eventually crumble under military pressure. In turn, the Assad regime has felt pressure from the West diminish since the rise of IS. The regime benefits from Russia and Iran’s increased support and believes its days are not yet numbered.

What the West needs to do is convince both camps that there is no military solution to this conflict. But before negotiations start, it needs to send out strong signals that it does not tolerate the regime’s strikes against civilians. Several options are on the table.

Some are calling for a no-fly zone. This is a radical measure and difficult to implement without the consent of the UN Security Council. Clearly Russia would veto it. Some kind of timely retaliatory measures against planes bombing civilian areas would be easier. This is not a declaration of war against the regime, but an important measure to make the regime pay for its attacks on civilians. Every time Assad’s army bombs civilian targets, an attack against a Syrian airbase could follow in retaliation. With a bit of determination, this is possible.

Only then can negotiations start. No side will agree to negotiate if it fears a total defeat, or is certain of victory.

Read the full article: The Problem with Coalition Airstrikes in Syria, by Jean-Marie Guéhenno, International Crisis Group, 15 September 2015.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Clear the sky

Photo: Syria Civil Defence rescue volunteers watch the sky as they eat.

On the second anniversary of the Ghouta massacre, Planet Syria and Breathless are campaigning under the slogan ‘Clear The Sky’.

Clear The Sky – Facebook event page.

Planet Syria write:
Two years ago on 21st August 2013 the world was focused on Syria after the government of Bashar al-Assad used Sarin on civilians in the worst chemical attack for a quarter of a century. (Since the Halabjah chemical attacks by the Saddam Hussein regime in 1988).

The world feigned outrage. Obama said a red line had been crossed.

But today the chemical attacks continue. Chlorine is routinely used in barrel bomb attacks on civilian neighborhoods. But it’s not the chemicals that are killing most people, it’s the bombs themselves.

Please invite all your friends to this event and do the following:

A) Join a street vigil or protest and look up towards the skies in groups. Educate the public around you by distributing fliers. Take photos and post them to this event. If you can’t do that...

B) ...Change your profile photo to a picture of you looking up towards the skies. Copy and paste the five points below into the description of your profile picture and add a link to this event.

C) Don't forget to use #‎clearthesky on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc.

Here are 5 things everyone should know about what is happening in Syria today:

1. The Assad regime is killing 7 times more civilians than Isis.

2. More than 11,000 barrel bombs made of scrap metal and high explosive have been rolled out of regime helicopters onto hospitals, homes and schools since the UN banned them. They are the biggest killer of civilians. They drive extremism.

3. These barrel bombs are the leading cause of displacement, forcing refugees to cross the Mediterranean and other borders.

4. Many of the barrel bombs are dropped on areas under siege. More than half a million people in Syria live in areas with no access to food, water or medicine since 2013, including the areas of Ghouta that were targeted by the sarin gas attacks in the same year.

5. The international anti-Isis coalition is flying in the same airspace where many of these barrel bombs are dropped, choosing to look the other way.

There is no military solution to the fighting in Syria. But like in Bosnia, a no-fly zone can help protect civilians from the worst of the violence and encourage the fighting parties to come to the negotiating table.

Too many Syrians spend their days looking up at the sky, wondering when the next barrel bomb will drop and what it will hit. Today we look up in solidarity with all those who continue on, and call on all those with a conscience to join the call to #clearthesky.

Join 100+ non-violent Syrian groups in asking for the international community to enforce the UN ban on barrel bombs with a Bosnia-style no-fly zone.

In London, Syrians and their friends will be marking the anniversary with an event this Saturday the 22nd of August.

Assemble at 2pm in Trafalgar Square, before walking to Downing Street. Please bring flowers to mourn the dead.

More on the Syria Solidarity website and on their Facebook event page.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

A limited No-Fly Zone won’t stop Assad’s bombs

Turkish media have claimed that a geographically limited no-fly zone will be enforced as part of their cooperation agreement with the US on Syria. US officials have denied this. But even if it’s true, it may not be such good news. If it happens, Assad will still have the same number of aircraft; he will still have the same number of bombs to drop.

A geographically limited no-fly zone will only concentrate Assad’s bombing, not stop it.


Turkey carries out strikes in Syria, The Guardian, 24 July 2015.

US State Department press briefing, 24 July 2015.
“Is it fair to describe what’s happening as a no-fly zone?”
“No… I wouldn’t—I just wouldn’t term it that.”
No-Go for Syrian No-Fly Zones, Says State, by Michael Weiss, 24 July 2015.
What accounts for the contradictory messaging by the two largest NATO members? “[The Turks] could be negotiating through the media,” one U.S. defense official told The Daily Beast. “We have seen them do that before.”
Earlier post: A critical response to calls for a geographically-limited No-Fly Zone, 28 April 2015.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Nicholas Burns and David Miliband on a No-Fly Zone for Syria

In a recent article for the Washington Post, Nicholas Burns and David Miliband composed a four-point call to action on Syria. Point three concerned humanitarian relief for Syrians still inside the country, and the need for enforcement of UN Security Council resolutions, particularly Resolution 2139.

As part of that, they had this to say about no-fly zones:
The debate about a no-fly zone across Syria to protect civilians from the Assad government’s deadly “barrel bombs” needs to move from slogans to details. Such zones can offer real protection (as was the case with the Iraqi Kurds in the 1990s), but a decision cannot be divorced from the wider imperative for progress toward a political settlement in Syria.
For most of us long engaged in the debate on no-fly zones, details of implementation have been part of the discussion for a very long time. To be clear, I favour the following ‘deter and retaliate’ approach:

Unlike the 1990s no-fly zones in Bosnia Herzegovina and Iraq, a ‘deter and retaliate’ no-fly zone would not necessitate regular patrols within Syrian air space. Instead it would require issuing a clear ultimatum to the Assad regime to stop bombing, and then responding to any further regime bombing by strikes against regime air bases rather than by trying to intercept the violating aircraft. Missile strikes against regime air bases would be cheaper and safer—both for civilians on the ground and for the enforcing military’s personnel—than a patrolled no-fly zone as they wouldn’t require the destruction of Assad’s remaining air defences.

In order to avoid merely displacing Assad’s bombing campaign from one part of Syria to another, the prohibition must be Syria-wide. A no-fly zone based on a deter and retaliate strategy rather than on air patrols could just as easily be imposed over all of Syria as over a limited part.

Implementing a deter and retaliate strategy without sending pilots into Syrian air space requires weapons such as sea launched cruise missiles and air launched stand-off weapons, systems that are in the arsenals of the UK and France as well as the US. Any of these P3 countries have the military capacity and expertise needed to enforce an end to Assad’s bombing of civilians.

Links to some of the long history of public discussion of details on how to implement a no-fly zone are included at the end of this article.

The second part of the Burns and Miliband paragraph, relating a no-fly zone to a political settlement, needs careful consideration. The Planet Syria campaign of Syrian civil society groups pairs its call for action to end Assad’s air attacks with a call for inclusive talks on a political transition. Here are their two demands from earlier this year:


Extremism breeds from injustice—the biggest killer of civilians in Syria today is the ‘barrel bomb’. These are often old oil barrels filled with explosive and scrap metal and rolled out of government helicopters and planes miles up in the air onto hospitals, schools and homes.

The UN Security Council unanimously banned them a year ago. Nothing has changed since then—nearly 2,000 children have been killed since UN Resolution 2139 was signed on February 22, 2014.

Many of us were against foreign military intervention in Syria. But in September 2014 the US-led coalition started bombing ISIS in our country. Now there is a deep hypocrisy to letting the Assad regime fly in the same airspace and kill civilians. Many more than are killed by ISIS.

The international community must follow through on its demands and stop the regime’s barrel bombs and air attacks - even if that means with a ‘no fly zone’.


There is no military solution to the conflict in Syria.

We need real peace talks to include all Syrian parties with the strong support of the international community.

No one side can unite Syria. It will require compromises from everyone involved and new leaders to build the future. Slowly, with the support of our real allies, we hope to reconnect with the tolerance and coexistence we have known for millennia and build a Syria better than before.

The first public step in imposing a no-fly zone is to issue a final demand that Assad forces stop bombing. That demand can be accompanied by a parallel invitation to all appropriate parties to inclusive talks. What must NOT happen is for imposition of a no-fly zone to be made conditional on political progress.

We have in the last week marked the anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, a disaster in great part the result of Western governments pulling back on civilian protection in the hope of first making political progress. This terrible error allowed Serb forces to make their own preparations for an eventual political settlement by creating ‘facts on the ground’ through massacre and displacement of civilians. It was only when NATO eventually proceeded with military enforcement that conditions for a political settlement at last came about, and even then it was a settlement that rewarded ethnic cleansing and locked-in sectarian politics into the resulting political system.

Western governments, led by the US, have been repeating the mistakes of the Bosnian war on an even greater scale in Syria. It is well past time for them to understand that civilian protection must come first, as a matter of humanity, and also in order to create the conditions for a lasting political settlement.


Syrian No-Fly Zone: From Slogans to Details: A response by Frederic C Hof to Nicholas Burns and David Miliband’s article.


Never again, and again, and again: On Bosnia and Syria. July 2015.

Deter and Retaliate: On buffer zones, safe zones, and air exclusion zones. December 2014.

Stop the barrel bombs: A moral and legal responsibility to use force: On the morality, legality, and practicality of intervention, and responsibility to act. April 2014.

Strategic Horizons: For Syria No-Fly Zone, Less Is More: On the spectrum of no-fly zone options. January 2014.

No-Fly Zone options: Reasons for favouring a limited strike option. January 2014.

NFZ reading list. Reporting, analysis, and advocacy, from 2011 to early 2014.