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.

Links:

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:

1: STOP THE BOMBS

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’.

2: REAL PEACE TALKS

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.

SEE ALSO

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

RELATED POSTS

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.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Never again, and again, and again

Reckless Diplomacy Disguised as Caution Cost Lives in Srebrenica. And It’s Happening Again, This Time in Syria

Ambassador Muhamed Sacirbey former Bosnian foreign minister and ambassador to the United Nations joined with Najib Ghadbian, Special Representative to US and UN, National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces to write this comparison of two avoidable man-made disasters.
“As Bosnia & Herzegovina’s first Ambassador to the UN and the Syrian opposition’s first Ambassador to the UN, we are struck by the painful parallels between our two conflicts, and how indecision and a lack of moral courage are once again leaving innocent civilians to pay the ultimate price.”
Sacirbey and Ghadbian argue that although a no-fly zone in Syria lacks the wide support given to the no-fly zone in Bosnia, it would be even more effective in saving lives, it would counter extremism, and it would make a political solution more possible. Read the rest.

From an interview with Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and former U.N. humanitarian chief, at Syria Deeply:
“We have Srebrenica happening every few months in Syria in terms of civilians killed and maimed.”
Read the rest: Jan Egeland: It’s Time to Change the Narrative for Syria’s Refugees.

James Bloodworth also writes of UK complicity with the Srebrenica massacre, and compares it with Syria.

For more detail on how British, French, and US government decisions helped pave the way for the Srebrenica massacre, see How Britain and the US decided to abandon Srebrenica to its fate, by Florence Hartmann and Ed Vulliamy.

As it was in Bosnia, so also in Syria it is within the power of the UK, France, and the US, acting singly or together, to stop much of the killing.

The single greatest culprit in the killing of civilians is the Syrian Air Force.


Chart from Violations Documentation Center in Syria report for May 2015. More details.

Last month, 81 NGOs called on the UN Security Council to enforce its own Resolution 2139 to end the barrel bombing. Realistically, this won’t happen by collective Security Council action. Russia has blocked any effective Security Council measure, including blocking a resolution to give the International Criminal Court jurisdiction in Syria. This week Russia even blocked a resolution recognising the Srebrenica massacre as an act of genocide.

On Syria, as on Kosovo, in the absence of Security Council unanimity, individual Security Council member states must act.

Assad’s barrel bombings kill mostly civilians, and mostly in areas not held by ISIS but held by the Syrian rebels who are fighting both Assad and ISIS.

Assad’s air attacks have actually been helping ISIS attack Syrian rebels.

As the greatest danger to civilians, Assad’s air attacks are the greatest driver of refugee flows. The number of refugees has more than doubled since the UK, France, and US, turned away from military intervention in 2013.

Aid for Syria is becoming the most expensive sticking plaster in history, costing billions and still woefully underfunded. The need will not end until the violence is stopped, and the violence is mostly Assad’s.

If you are in the UK, write to your MP here.

If you are in the US, write to Congress here.

Download and share Syria Solidarity UK’s document: Ongoing chemical weapons attacks and bombing of civilians by the Syrian Air Force: A call for action (PDF)



Saturday, 30 May 2015

Barrel bombs killed 71 people today: Call for action

Cross-posted from Syria Solidarity UK.

BBC News reports at least 71 people killed by barrel bomb attacks in Aleppo province today.

The Syrian Observer translated a report this week about how barrel bombs are made:

Banias is home to the “barrel factory”, as Nazih calls it. An employee at the Banias refinery for a decade, the 40-year-old engineer claims to have never presumed something secret was going on within its walls.


When Syria’s oil production decreased by 90 percent following the rise of ISIS, which seized a majority of Syria’s oil wells in the process, work at the refinery stopped.


“They are using the maintenance and pipelines welding workshop to make these barrels,” says Nazih. For around a month, Nazih has been aware of the factory’s true purpose, but it is clear from his behavior that he is still in a state of shock.

“One of my tasks required me to visit to the headquarters of a maintenance and welding workshop. I saw the construction of vast empty barrels in the rear yard, there was no need for further explanation—it was clear,” Nazih continued.


Nazih headed to his colleague, an engineer and the chief of the workshop. An Alawite man in his 50s, Nazih finds him witty and enjoys drinking tea with him from time to time. When Nazih inquired about the barrels, the workshop chief simply replied: “We are manufacturing barrels to kill the dogs and burn them.”

“I tried to explain to him that the barrels are a random and blind weapon, he did not listen… he was perhaps annoyed,” Nazih says. The chief of the workshop explained the details of making the barrels with pride. He talked about the bolts, the large nails and the sharp metal triangles added to the barrel full of explosives, Nazih said.


Curious, Nazih asked: “How much does each of them cost?”

“Less than 20,000 Syrian pounds (75 USD),” the chief replied.


The UK has the ability to stop this happening. Write to your MP here.

Download and share our demand for action: Ongoing chemical weapons attacks and bombing of civilians by the Syrian Air Force: A call for action (PDF)



Monday, 25 May 2015

Video: Peter Tatchell on Syria



Peter Tatchell on why the international community needs to act on Syria.

More from Peter Tatchell at www.petertatchell.net.

Via Syria Solidarity UK.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

The No-Fly Zone Debate



From Syria Solidarity Movement UK:

OPINION ARTICLES WANTED

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

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

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

Please email submissions to: info@syriauk.org


Read more at the Syria Solidarity UK site.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Over 29,000 civilians killed in Syria since British MPs rejected action



This is an updated version of an earlier post.

The Violations Documentation Center in Syria now lists 29,003 civilians killed since the 29 August 2013 UK Parliament vote against intervention.

This total includes 379 civilians killed by rebels listed under ‘Regime’ casualties. 28,624 are listed under ‘Martyrs’, a figure which includes 254 killed by US-led Coalition air strikes, leaving 28,370 civilians killed by the regime or others.

VDC figures are a minimum count of people confirmed killed, and as omniscience is impossible, even more so in wartime, this is certain to be an undercount. When compared to the latest UN minimum count of 191,369 confirmed violent deaths (both civilians and combatants) up to the end of April 2014, VDC figures for the same period show only 109,648 killed. (95,199 under ‘Martyrs’ and 14,449 under ’Regime’.)

If the VDC figure for civilians killed since the 2013 vote were found to be an undercount to the same degree, then the actual figure would be over 50,000 civilians killed since the UK Parliament rejected intervention.

Amongst the 29,003 civilians that VDC Syria have confirmed as killed since the UK vote are 11,029 people killed by air attacks. 254 of them were killed by US-led strikes, and 10,775 were killed by Assad’s air force. That means at least 37% of all civilians confirmed killed since the vote could have been saved had a No-Fly Zone been enforced against Assad’s air force. Again, the confirmed number is certainly an undercount, possibly by thousands.

Amongst women the proportion killed by air attacks is higher: over 45% of adult women civilians confirmed killed since the 2013 Parliamentary vote against action were killed by regime air attacks. In 2014 the proportion rose: over 50% of women confirmed killed in 2014 were killed by regime air attacks. So far in 2015, over 51% of women confirmed killed have been killed by regime air attacks.

Amongst children killed, over 49% of boys confirmed killed since the 2013 vote were killed by regime air attacks. Over 53% of girls killed were killed by regime air attacks. Again, the proportion rose in 2014. And so far in 2015 it is higher still: 56% of boys confirmed killed since the start of this year were killed by regime air attacks, and over 55% of girls killed since the start of the year were killed by regime air attacks.

Air attacks by the regime are a key driver of refugee flows: see Barrel Bombs and the Regime’s Strategy of Urban Warfare by Ryan O’Farrell, and the March 2014 Human Rights Watch report, Unlawful Air Attacks Terrorize Aleppo.

As with confirmed figures for violent deaths, UNHCR numbers for registered refugees are also necessarily lower than the actual number of people to have fled Syria. When the UK Parliament debated intervention on the 29th of August 2013 the number of registered Syrian refugees in the region was 1,830,557. The current number of registered Syrian refugees is 3,977,538, well over twice as many as when Parliament voted.

Those numbers don’t include Syrian refugees outside the Middle East and North Africa. 222,225 Syrians sought asylum in Europe from April 2011 to the end of 2014.

Protect Civilians
Enforce UN Security Council Resolution 2139
Syria needs a No-Fly Zone


In giving these numbers, I am trying to demonstrate the scale of the consequences of the decisions made by MPs in August 2013. I have not shown graphic images of the butchery that continues every day, but you should remember that these are not peaceful deaths, eased by painkillers in quiet hospital beds. And for every body fatally ripped apart there are untold others maimed for life. And they all have names, or had them once.

Below are the confirmed killed for one day, 25 December 2014.

Click to enlarge.


Tuesday, 28 April 2015

A critical response to calls for a geographically-limited No-Fly Zone

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon writes in the Guardian of his visits to Syria to investigate chlorine attacks and to help Syrians survive them:

Only a no-fly zone can curb chemical attacks in Syria

He describes the UK Parliament’s August 2013 vote against action in response to Assad’s Sarin massacre as “the greatest strategic military mistake this century,” writing that “it kept Assad in power – with the result that thousands more are dead and injured – and fuelled the rise of Islamic State.”

Finally he advocates a no-fly zone in a limited part of Syria to curb Assad’s chlorine attacks.

I strongly disagree with the proposal to limit the area to just part of the country. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon’s reasoning is that a nationwide no-fly would bring those enforcing it “into conflict with Syria and Iran who are also fighting IS with jets” and that limiting the area might make it more palatable to Russia.

When Assad’s air force bombed the ISIS-held city of Raqqa last year, the targets were not ISIS buildings, and the vast majority of victims were civilians, according to Amnesty’s detailed report on the attacks. Those few ISIS members who were killed were in civilian clothes, not identifiable as ISIS by sight, and therefore likely to have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time as Assad’s aircraft went about their usual practice of targeting the civilian population.

Allowing Assad to continue to bomb ISIS-held areas would cost more civilian lives; it not help the campaign against ISIS in any great way, but would likely further discredit that campaign in the eyes of the population.

The Avaaz Safe zone for Syrians, now! petition which I posted on last month has since passed a million signatures. The scale of the response is wonderful, but this also proposes a geographically limited air exclusion zone in the north of Syria.

A geographically limited no-fly zone would displace bombing, not necessarily reduce it. The limited zone would risk encouraging the regime to focus on forced clearing of resisting populations from areas beyond the zone, with a view to partitioning Syria and entrenching a geographically reduced Assad state.

Proponents of a geographically-limited No-Fly Zone need to remember the events of 1991 in Iraq when a limited no-fly zone in the north of that country protected one part of the population while leaving Saddam free to slaughter another. The numbers given for the dead in that horror range from 50,000 to hundreds of thousands. It was over a year later when a second no-fly zone was imposed in Iraq’s south—far too late. We should not promote the same mistake in Syria. A no-fly zone must be Syria-wide.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

A manifesto for Syria

Cross-posted from Syria Solidarity UK.



In this UK election, let’s talk about Syria.

For a peaceful, democratic Syria, a Syria without Assad and a Syria without ISIS, we support the calls by Planet Syria activists and Syria Civil Defence rescue volunteers for action to stop the violence.

Read more:

Join us in London on the 26th of April to answer the call from Syria.



Saturday, 4 April 2015

Call from Syria: London march 26th April

From Syria Solidarity UK:




Sunday 26th April will be a global day of action to answer a Call from Syria:
  • Stop Chemical Attacks
  • Stop the Bombs
  • A No-Fly Zone for Syria
Facebook event page.

In London, we will assemble at 1pm at Marble Arch, before marching to the US Embassy, and then on to the BBC via Oxford Street.

The Assad regime remains the greatest threat to civilians in Syria. Despite multiple UN Security Council resolutions, barrel bombs filled with explosives, and sometimes chlorine gas, are still being used by the regime to terrorise, maim, and kill.

We come together to ask for a No-Fly Zone for Syria. Only a No-Fly Zone can help turn the tide in this humanitarian tragedy.

We also gather to condemn the lack of coverage in the mass media of the horrific chemical attacks in Sarmin, Binnesh and Idlib. The media must be the voice of our collective humanity.

Amongst those calling for a No-Fly Zone are Syria Civil Defence, also known as The White Helmets. They have been joined by a coalition of non-violent activists united in the Planet Syria campaign who are calling for an end to barrel bombing, if necessary by means of a No-Fly Zone, as an essential requirement to enable meaningful peace talks.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Just words? Ed Miliband and the the Anne Frank Declaration

Recently Ed Miliband, along with all other members of the Shadow Cabinet, including Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander, signed the Anne Frank Declaration:
Anne Frank is a symbol of the millions of innocent children who have been victims of persecution. Anne’s life shows us what can happen when prejudice and hatred go unchallenged.

Because prejudice and hatred harm us all, I declare that:
  • I will stand up for what is right and speak out against what is unfair and wrong
  • I will try to defend those who cannot defend themselves
  • I will strive for a world in which our differences will make no difference – a world in which everyone is treated fairly and has an equal chance in life

Since then, Ed Miliband has been talking about his August 2013 decision to block joint UK-US action in response to the Assad regime’s mass killing of civilians with Sarin chemical weapons. He said that this choice proves he is “tough enough” to be prime minister: “Hell yes.” Many of his supporters seem to agree, and “Hell yes” t-shirts have been produced, celebrating Ed Miliband’s toughness in helping get a mass-murdering regime off the hook.

Not that they see it in quite that way. Jamie Glackin, Chair of Scottish Labour, denied that there was any connection between Ed Miliband’s “hell yes” phrase and the August 2013 chemical attack: “It’s got nothing to do with that. At all.”

But it has everything to do with that. Ed Miliband’s chosen anecdote to show toughness was to point to the time he prevented action against a mass-murdering dictatorship, one that gave refuge to a key Nazi war criminal, that has tortured its citizens on an industrial scale, that is inflicting starvation sieges on hundreds of thousands of people, that has driven half of the population from their homes, four million of them driven out of the country as refugees, and that has continued killing civilians in their tens of thousands since Ed Miliband said “no” to action.
Anne’s life shows us what can happen when prejudice and hatred go unchallenged.

When asked about the consequent events in Syria, Ed Miliband shirked responsibility. “It’s a failure of the international community,” he said. But we are the international community. The UK is a key member of the international community, one of only five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and one of only three functioning democracies amongst those five. When Ed Miliband blocked UK action, the consequences were critical.
I will try to defend those who cannot defend themselves.

Anne Frank was 15 when she was killed in the Holocaust. The Anne Frank Trust is holding a #notsilent campaign to mark the 70th Anniversary of her murder on the 14th of April. You can also read more about her at the Anne Frank House museum’s website.

According to a November 2013 report by the Oxford Research Group, Stolen Futures: The hidden toll of child casualties in Syria, 128 children were recorded amongst the killed in the Ghouta chemical attack: 65 girls and 63 boys.

Something of two of those girls, Fatima Ghorra, three years old, and her sister, Hiba Ghorra, four years old, is told by Hisham Ashkar here.

The names of 54 of the girls killed are listed by the Violations Documentation Center in Syria. For some, clicking on a name will give a little more information, such as a photograph of one in life, or in death, or their age.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Washington DC Friday: Rally to Stop the Bombs in Syria



This Friday 27 March, 1-2pm at the White House.

From the Facebook event page:
Join us as we stage a protest to demand the United States take action to stop the Syrian regime dropping barrel bombs and chemical weapons on civilians.

Come and add your voice to the voices of Syrian volunteer rescue workers - the White Helmets, thousands of non-violent activists in Syria and nearly 600,000 people around the world who are calling for a no fly zone.

On the 16th March the Syrian regime dropped barrels of chlorine on civilians in Sarmeen, Idlib killing six and injuring dozens.

The attack came just 11 days after the UN Security Council voted on a resolution saying it would take further measures, including the possibility of military force, if chlorine gas was used again in Syria. Now it has been used. The Syrian regime is testing us – if the international community doesn't take action, if our leaders break their word, it will be a green light for thousands more to be killed using poison gas and barrel bombs.

The attack also comes 390 days after the UN Security Council passed a resolution banning the use of barrel bombs. Despite these threats, the Syrian regime is doing nothing to ease its attacks on civilians. Barrel bombs have killed nearly 2000 children.

Every barrel bomb Assad drops also strengthens ISIS. Any support these extremists have in Syria is directly linked to the mass human rights violations of the Assad regime. If we want to defeat ISIS we have to end the violence in Syria.

Stand with the Syrian people because no one is free until we’re all free.

Please join if you can.


A call from Planet Syria: Is anybody out there?



Planet Syria is an initiative by non-violent Syrian activists. They write:
Non-violent activists across Syria are calling for global solidarity around their joint demands of stopping the regime's barrel bombs and pushing for inclusive peace talks.

Scroll down on their website, www.planetsyria.org, to read more:
STOP THE BOMBS

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’.

You’ll also find Planet Syria on Facebook and Twitter.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Support Syria Civil Defence: Write to your MP



The petition being run by Syria Civil Defence and The Syria Campaign calling for a No-Fly Zone has now been joined by another organised by Avaaz. The Avaaz petition calls for “an air exclusion zone in Northern Syria, including Aleppo” rather than an all-Syria no-fly zone, but it’s still most welcome, and Syria Civil Defence are encouraging followers to sign.

WHITE HELMETS PETITION

AVAAZ PETITION

I have signed the Avaaz petition, though it’s not just northern Syria that needs a no-fly zone. For example Douma in the south near Damascus has been suffering greatly from Assad’s air attacks. At least 26 people were killed there on Sunday alone. Here’s a video of rescuers on the scene.

What’s needed is to ground Assad’s air force nationwide through deterrence and—if necessary—retaliation. This means demanding air attacks cease immediately, and if there is a single air attack after that demand then retaliating against Assad’s air bases with standoff weapons. A ‘deter and retaliate’ strategy is no harder to apply nationwide than it is in just a part of the country as it doesn’t require air patrols to enforce.

As well as these two petitions, if you’re in the US you can email your representatives in Congress, courtesy of the Syrian American Council:

TELL CONGRESS TO ENACT A NO-FLY ZONE

Inspired by that, I have set up a similar page for UK voters to email their Member of Parliament. If you’re in the UK please use this page to email your MP and ask them to support Syria Civil Defence in their call for a No-Fly Zone:

WRITE TO YOUR MP

The major parties in the UK are now largely silent on Syria, adopting a ‘don’t mention the war’ approach in the run up to the election. We need to do all we can to break that silence.

Finally, if you’re in London tomorrow, please join Syria Solidarity UK and others calling for a no-fly zone at the American Embassy from 2 to 4pm.

PROTEST 22 MARCH: US EMBASSY IN LONDON


Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Syria Civil Defence ‘White Helmets’ call for No-Fly Zone following chemical attack

 

Above images via Syria Solidarity UK: 17th March London protest outside the US Embassy following new Assad regime air attacks with chlorine bombs.

There will be a further protest outside the US Embassy this Sunday, 2-4pm. Facebook event page here.

Note that last Saturday’s march to Downing Street also called for a No-Fly Zone.

Following the 16 March attacks, Syria Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, have called for the imposition of a no-fly zone in Syria to stop further air attacks on civilians by the Assad regime.You can sign a petition in support on their website, www.whitehelmets.org.

Press release from The Syria Campaign:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
17th March 2015

CONTACT:
Bissan Fakih, bissan@thesyriacampaign.org, +961 71 377 364

SYRIAN RESCUE WORKERS REPORT THE USE OF CHLORINE GAS IN BARREL BOMB ATTACKS ON CIVILIANS IN IDLIB

Syrian Civil Defence call for the UN Security Council to impose a no-fly zone

Chlorine attacks took place in the town of Sarmeen and in the village of Kminas on Monday night. Kminas was hit by two chlorine-filled barrel bombs around 8:30 PM. The village is nearly deserted and no casualties were recorded. The smell of chlorine traveled west to the town of Sarmeen. Members of the Syrian Civil Defence – known as the White Helmets – responded to civilians who complained of choking but there were no serious casualties.

At 10:30 PM, the town of Sarmeen was hit with chlorine-filled barrel bombs. Six people are confirmed to have died in the attack. A husband and wife and their three children, and the husband’s mother. They are reported to have died in the field hospital due to lack of treatment options available.

Five civil defence centres responded to the attacks in Sarmeen – teams from Binnish, Maarat Nauman, Saraqeb, Balyon and Sarmeen were present. There were more than 70 cases of choking, including seven members of the White Helmets who were later discharged from the hospital around 2 AM. Some of the injured have been taken to Turkey for treatment, others have remained to be treated in field hospitals.

The government renewed their attacks two hours later in Kafr Takharim, using scud missiles. Seven were killed.

The chlorine attacks come just eleven days after the UN Security Council adopted a resolution specifically condemning the use of the gas as a weapon in Syria. Resolution 2209 [2015] – drafted by the United States – states that the UN Security Council will impose measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter if chemical weapons including chlorine are used again. Chapter VII allows decisions to be enforced with economic sanctions or military force.

In response to the chlorine attack, the White Helmets are calling for the United Nations to uphold its demands and stop the chemical attacks and barrel bombs by implementing a ‘no-fly zone’ in Syria. Raed Saleh, head of the Syrian Civil Defence said:
“When a child inhales chlorine they get a burning pain in their throat and eyes and they feel like they’re suffocating. Sometimes they vomit but often their breathing just gets shallower and they slip away, never to wake up again. It breaks your heart forever. I wish the world could see what I have seen with my eyes.”

He added:
“These children did not have to die. It’s not good enough for the United Nations to ban these chemical weapons on paper, they need to stop them from dropping from the sky. With a no-fly zone these children would be alive today.”

The White Helmets have launched their campaign for today at www.whitehelmets.org, in partnership with global advocacy group The Syria Campaign. James Sadri, Campaign Director of The Syria Campaign said:
“Only days ago the UN Security Council said it would impose Chapter VII measures if its resolution on chemical weapons was violated again. Well it’s been violated. Real action must be taken immediately to protect civilians – with a no-fly zone if necessary.”

Video: English language video of the Syria Civil Defence treating victims of the attacks
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmvVJYQGKnM&t=90

Video: A rescue worker shows signs of intoxication
https://youtu.be/gPa_6CoYD_o


Notes to Editors

The Syrian Civil Defense – or the ‘White Helmets’ as they are known – are volunteer rescue workers who arrive to the sites of barrel bomb attacks to dig survivors out from under the rubble and transport the injured to safety. Unarmed and neutral, they have saved people from all sides of the conflict.

Barrel bombs themselves were banned last year in a separate UN Security Council resolution 2193 on 22 February 2014. However, since then according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights at least 1,892 children have been killed by them.
http://sn4hr.org/wp-content/pdf/english/Barrel_Bombs_2015_en.pdf

Resolution 2209 was passed after a fact-finding mission of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) earlier this year concluded “with a high degree of confidence” that chlorine was used on three villages in Syria in 2014, killing 13 people. The report included eyewitness accounts of helicopters dropping barrel bombs with toxic chemicals. The use of chlorine gas has been repeatedly reported by activists and rescue workers in Syria.

In the OPCW report they did not say which side was responsible for the chlorine attacks, but the UK, France and US have all accused the Assad regime of the attacks. Addressing the Security Council, the US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, said there was not much doubt. “Let’s ask ourselves, who has helicopters in Syria? Certainly not the opposition. Only the regime does and we have seen them use their helicopters in countless other attacks on innocent Syrians using barrel bombs.”

The Syrian representative to the UN has persistently denied the use of chlorine gas and in a BBC interview in February Assad said that his regime were “definitely not” using chlorine as a weapon.

The Syria Campaign is an advocacy group mobilising public support around the world to stop the violence in Syria

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Four years is too long



Last year, two out of every five civilians killed in Syria were killed by Assad’s air attacks.

Over half the women killed last year were killed by Assad’s air attacks.

Over half the children killed last year were killed by Assad’s air attacks.

There is no other single measure that could do as much to save civilian lives as stopping Assad’s air force.

Some say this should be done by giving the Free Syrian Army anti-aircraft weapons. That might help, but not enough. Not enough to stop Assad’s bombers. There are too many. They attack over too wide an area. They fly too high.

So the best way, the one way, the only way to ground Assad’s air force, is for the UK, France, the USA, one or all of them I don’t care, to make the decision.

Make the call.

Tell Assad this stops now. Tell him, your bombing stops now or we start hitting your air bases. UK, France, USA, ground Assad’s air force.

Four years is too long.

Syria needs a No-Fly Zone.

Join us today in London.


Saturday, 7 March 2015

Comparing Syria to DR Congo

The war in Syria is very different to the recent wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo, yet comparisons are occasionally made for whatever reason. In a January 2013 interview, President Obama brought up conflict in the DRC when contextualising his decision-making on Syria:
In a situation like Syria, I have to ask, can we make a difference in that situation? Would a military intervention have an impact? How would it affect our ability to support troops who are still in Afghanistan? What would be the aftermath of our involvement on the ground? Could it trigger even worse violence or the use of chemical weapons? What offers the best prospect of a stable post-Assad regime? And how do I weigh tens of thousands who've been killed in Syria versus the tens of thousands who are currently being killed in the Congo?

Those are not simple questions. And you process them as best you can. You make the decisions you think balance all these equities, and you hope that, at the end of your presidency, you can look back and say, I made more right calls than not and that I saved lives where I could, and that America, as best it could in a difficult, dangerous world, was, net, a force for good.

As Michael E. O’Hanlon pointed out at the time, Congo presented a very different case to Syria. Most of the deaths were being caused by malnutrition and poor healthcare, not directly by violence. A UN peacekeeping mission was in place, and had been since 1999. The US had been involved in training the DRC’s military since 2009, though with mixed results.

Michael E. O’Hanlon argued that there was certainly more that the US could usefully contribute, but that the DRC conflict was much less violent than those the US had faced in Afghanistan and Iraq, and also that conditions in Syria and the DRC were quite different, so that even if the US decided to commit forces in both places, the kinds of forces each would require would not be the same, and so there would be few if any conflicting demands from the two missions.

So different are the problems in Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo that it’s hard to believe the President was raising the DRC in his Syria answer as a genuine concern; it seems to have been more of an attempt to use Congo’s problems as a rhetorical diversion. This is what is known as ‘whataboutery’.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Syrians first called for a No-Fly Zone in October 2011

Syrians first called for a No-Fly Zone in October 2011—that call needs your solidarity today.

Join the 4th Anniversary march for Syria in London on Saturday 14th March and call for a No-Fly Zone for Syria.

Assembly point: Marble Arch, Hyde Park, at 12:30.
End point: 10 Downing Street.


Monday, 2 March 2015

London 4th Anniversary Syria demonstration calls for No-Fly Zone

Cross-posted from Syria Solidarity UK.

Facebook event page.

4th ANNIVERSARY OF THE SYRIAN REVOLUTION

Assembly point: Marble Arch, Hyde Park, at 12:30 Saturday 14th March.
End Point: 10 Downing Street.

Join us on March 14th in London to show your solidarity and support for a peaceful, democratic Syria: a Syria without Assad and a Syria without ISIS.

It is more important than ever to show your support. More than half of Syria’s people have been displaced. Millions have fled the country. Over 200,000 people have been killed. Over 250,000 are still in regime prisons.

Syrians have been tortured, shot, bombed, starved, and gassed. Lend your voice to demand action. We cannot let the world turn its back on Syria.

SOLIDARITY WITH THE SYRIAN PEOPLE

The Syria Solidarity Movement UK is a network of activists, academics, trade unionists, socialists, lawyers, doctors, nurses, students, committed to solidarity with the Syrian Revolution.

We aim to provide political and material solidarity for the people of Syria. We want to work with all existing campaigns and progressive organisations to help in the struggle for a democratic and free Syria.

SYRIAN REFUGEES WELCOME HERE

There are over 4 million Syrian refugees, 94% of them in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt. The UK government has accepted only 90 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees for resettlement, while at the same time they have pulled out of EU rescue efforts in the Mediterranean.

We call on the UK government to:
  • Expand the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme
  • Contribute to expanding Operation Triton for Mediterranean rescue
  • Work with the EU to allow safe routes for Syrians entering Europe

A NO-FLY ZONE FOR SYRIA

We call on UN Security Council permanent members UK, France, and USA, to:
  • Protect Civilians
  • Enforce UN Security Council Resolution 2139
  • Stop Assad’s air attacks – Syria needs a No-Fly Zone

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Wear a good suit and deny everything

Anyone who has followed the Syria war in any detail, even from a secure distance in the UK, will have seen things they would rather not have seen. Photographs of tortured, starved, lacerated, or burned bodies; images of children with limbs gone, or jaws half blown off, or heads completely blown off. For me, the presence in memory of these indelible images made the thought of watching Assad calmly answering questions on the BBC as unsettling a prospect as watching a YouTube clip of the aftermath of a marketplace bombing.

We know the routine by now: a book-lined office signalling a stable, secular, civilised, Western-friendly leader. A good suit signalling a man we can do business with. And then deny everything.

Deny the Human Rights Watch reports, the UN reports on barrel bombs, on chemical weapons, on the blocking of food aid, on the blocking of medical aid. Deny every single thing.

Jeremy Bowen politely challenged Assad with a series of reports of regime crimes. He quoted from a Human Rights Watch report of 30th January saying that Assad’s forces “deliberately and viciously attacked civilians in opposition-held areas” using indiscriminate weapons, most notoriously barrel bombs. Assad dismissed it as a “childish story” denying that the regime uses barrel bombs or any other indiscriminate weapons. (7:25)

Jeremy Bowen persisted, citing Staffan de Mistura, United Nations and Arab League Envoy to Syria, on the “constant fear of barrel bombs.” Assad continued to deny the regime targeted civilians saying “there is no logic in it.” (8:51)

Jeremy Bowen refused to accept Assad’s denial of barrel bomb attacks, saying “it does happen,” and asked why he doesn’t stop such attacks to improve his international standing. Assad continued to deny even the existence of barrel bombs. (10:35)

Jeremy Bowen asked him about the recent OPCW report on chlorine attacks. Again Assad not only denied responsibility for the chlorine attacks, he seemed to even deny that there had ever been any chemical weapons attacks in Syria. (11:36)

When Jeremy Bowen asked about civilian neighbourhoods under siege by the regime, Assad denied that any civilians are present in those neighbourhoods. (19:28)

When Jeremy Bowen pointed to the regime restricting medical supplies to civilians in rebel-held areas, citing Elizabeth Hoff of the World Health Organisation, Assad denied it, saying the regime supplies ISIS-held Raqqa with food and medical supplies, so why wouldn’t they supply other areas? (20:38)

Jeremy Bowen quoted a statement to the UN Security Council by Valerie Amos, head of UN OCHA, on the regime’s blocking of a majority of UN aid convoys to besieged areas. Assad called it an “unrealistic un-objective statement,’ saying “we cannot discuss it as fact, this is part of the propaganda against Syria for the past four years.” (21:18)

Is there anything said by a Western leader that he agrees with? Is there any reporting on Syria that he agrees is true? Here are two things he clearly liked hearing from the West…

Assad: “Obama answered your question when he said few month ago that waiting for or depending on what they called the so-called moderate opposition was a ‘fantasy’.” (5:10)

Assad: “Even in the Western media now they are talking about the ISIS and Al Nusra and Al Qaeda affiliates organisation and groups prevailing.” (5:38)

Obama’s miserable “fantasy” comment, made in contradiction to his own declared policy, should shame him as it is spewed back from Assad’s mouth. It should shame Obama just as should his narrow intervention against ISIS when Assad is the party that continues to be by far the biggest killer of Syrian civilians.

In this interview Assad has once again shown himself to be incapable of any acknowledgement of responsibility, of any recognition of reality. He is not someone the West can do business with. The greatest fantasy on Syria has been the hope that diplomacy could trump force. This war can’t end as long as Assad is allowed the means to slaughter at will.

On the 22nd of this month it will be three years since journalists Marie Colvin and Rémi Ochlik were killed by Syrian regime shelling in the siege of Baba Amr, Homs. According to fellow journalist Paul Conroy, severely injured in the same attack, the media centre they were staying in was deliberately targeted by Assad’s forces bracketing their shellfire in order to achieve a direct hit.

And on the 22nd it will also be one year since the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2139, which demanded amongst other things an end to sieges of civilian areas, an end to shelling of civilian areas, and an end to air attacks on civilian areas, including an end to barrel bombing.

Every 30 days since the passing of UNSCR 2139, the Secretary General has been required to report to the Security Council on compliance. Every report has listed ongoing sieges, ongoing shelling of civilians, ongoing air attacks on civilians.

UNSCR 2139 ended with the Security Council expressing “its intent to take further steps in the case of non-compliance with this resolution.” Since then Russia has made clear it will block any substantial measures to enforce compliance. The Security Council is in a similar position as it was over Kosovo in 1999, having made demands but being unable to pass a vote for enforcement of those demands.

One year on from the passing of that resolution, individual permanent members of the Security Council now need to recognise that there is no prospect of a diplomatic solution with Assad. Consequently there is no prospect of relief for civilians unless they follow the Kosovo precedent and take responsibility to enforce Resolution 2139.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Minimum of 25,428 civilians killed since Commons vote – true number may be over 44,400



The Violations Documentation Center in Syria now lists 25,428 civilians killed since the 29 August 2013 UK Parliament vote against intervention.

This total includes 234 civilians killed by rebels listed under ‘Regime’ casualties. 25,194 are listed under ‘Martyrs’, a figure which includes 165 killed by US-led Coalition air strikes, leaving 25,029 civilians killed by the regime or others.

VDC figures are a minimum count of people confirmed killed, and as omniscience is impossible in wartime they are certain to be an undercount. When compared to the latest UN minimum count of 191,369 confirmed violent deaths (both civilians and combatants) up to the end of April 2014, VDC figures for the same period show only 109,585 killed. (95,143 under ‘Martyrs’ and 14,442 under ’Regime’.)

If the VDC figure for civilians killed since the 2013 vote were found to be an undercount to the same degree, then the actual figure would be over 44,400 civilians killed since the UK Parliament rejected intervention.

Amongst the 25,428 civilians VDC Syria confirmed killed since the UK vote are 9,557 people killed by air attacks. 165 of them were killed by US-led strikes, and 9,392 were killed by Assad’s air force. That means at least 36% of all civilians confirmed killed since the vote could have been saved by a No-Fly Zone. Again, the confirmed number is certainly an undercount, possibly by thousands.

UNHCR numbers for registered refugees are also lower than the actual number of people believed to have fled Syria. When the UK Parliament debated intervention on the 29th of August 2013 the number of registered Syrian refugees was 1,830,557. The current number of registered refugees is 3,726,884, over twice as many, but the true number will be higher still.

Air attacks by the regime are a key driver of refugee flows: see Barrel Bombs: A tool to force displacement in Eastern Aleppo by Ryan O’Farrell, and the March 2014 Human Rights Watch report, Unlawful Air Attacks Terrorize Aleppo. This month will see the first anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 2139 which demanded an end to air attacks on civilian areas, amongst other things. It has not been enforced.

Protect Civilians
Enforce UN Security Council Resolution 2139
Syria needs a No-Fly Zone


In giving these numbers, I am trying to demonstrate the scale of the consequences of the decisions made by MPs in August 2013. I have not shown graphic images of the butchery that continues every day, but you should remember that these are not peaceful deaths, eased by painkillers in quiet hospital beds. And for every body fatally ripped apart there are untold others maimed for life. And they all have names, or had them once.

Below are the confirmed killed for one day, 25 December 2014.

Click to enlarge.


Monday, 2 February 2015

The greater evil

Image by The Syria Campaign based on VDC Syria data
With the murder of journalist Kenji Goto, ISIS again demonstrated their carefully packaged and branded approach to terrorism, from logo to costumes, from the attention-grabbing trailing of their murders to their ‘please share’ death videos, they present perhaps the most compelling integration of marketing and political violence since the Nazis. They are the perfect terrorists from Central Casting.

But while ISIS flaunt their brutality, the greatest threat to Syrians, and consequently the greatest threat to regional stability and to European security, remains the Assad regime. In December, the Assad regime was responsible for three-quarters of all violent deaths recorded by the Syrian Network for Human Rights. Amongst civilians the proportion was even higher: over 85% of civilians killed in December were victims of the Assad regime. The Regime is responsible for over 95% of all civilian violent deaths recorded by the Violations Documentation Center in Syria since March 2011. According to VDC figures, in the last year in the province of Raqqa, stronghold of ISIS, over seven times as many civilians were confirmed killed by Assad air strikes as were killed by ISIS.

Like ISIS, Assad also has a marketing strategy. Unlike ISIS, his strategy is not to flaunt his brutality, at least when dealing with the wider world beyond Syria. From before ISIS appeared, from the very start of peaceful protests against his dictatorship in 2011, he has claimed that all of his opponents are terrorists and has sought to portray himself as the opposite: a civilised leader in a Western businessman’s suit and tie. The contrast between his costume and those of ISIS is perfect… almost too perfect.

For years there have  been allegations from former insiders that the Assad regime deliberately brought about the rise of ISIS: from Nawaf Fares, former Syrian ambassador to Iraq; from Mohammed Habash, former member of the Syrian parliament; from Bassam Barabandi, former Syrian diplomat; from a former member of Syria’s Military Intelligence Directorate.

The regime had a known history of facilitating their earlier incarnation, Al Qaeda in Iraq, and there is objective evidence that the regime avoided conflict with ISIS as they took over territory from the Free Syrian Army and associated rebel groups. Despite this, Assad’s marketing of himself as a force to counter terrorism has had an unreasonable degree of success.

It’s sadly no longer surprising when Patrick Cockburn in the Independent pitches the topsy-turvy notion that keeping Assad might help counter terrorism, nor when we see it coming from Leslie Gelb writing for the Daily Beast website – he has pushed this line before. The disturbing thing is that Gelb now claims anonymous sources in the Obama administration are telling him that Obama also buys this line. Seeing it echoed in a New York Times editorial makes it even more unsettling as the New York Times editorial board has for some time been a prime target of Obama administration PR efforts. For more on reactions to this, see Akbar Shahid Ahmed’s report, Springtime for Assad.

Assad may have hoped that his recent interview with Foreign Affairs magazine would be the perfect culmination of his pitch as Syria’s man of reason, a secular leader the West can do business with; but Jonathan Tepperman, the journalist who conducted the interview, begs to differ. He writes:
… he was disconcertingly good at presenting himself as a reasonable, rational actor. His critique of America’s Middle East policy, for example, is one shared by many lefties in the West: The U.S. role, he told me, should be “to help peace in the region, to fight terrorism, to promote secularism, to support this area economically” and “not to launch wars. Launching war doesn’t make you a great power.”

But behind the cheery aphorisms and the barely-there mustache is a man so unyielding and deeply deceptive — or delusional — that it’s impossible to imagine him ever negotiating an equitable end to Syria’s civil war.


Either Syria’s president is an extremely competent fabulist — in which case he’s merely a sociopath — or he actually believes his lies, in which case he’s something much more dangerous (like a delusional psychopath).

Read the rest, or listen to Jonathan Tepperman describe his experience in the video below.



An end to Syria’s war requires an end to Assad, and an end to ISIS requires the same. Obama’s current ISIS-only strategy in Syria fails on both counts. The least the US-led coalition against ISIS should do is to make protection of civilians the priority: stop air attacks by Assad, the enabler of ISIS, and give the parts of Syria outside of Assad and ISIS control some chance of peace and stability.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

The neighbours are drowning

At least 3,419 people died last year trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

Most were fleeing Syria and Eritrea.

The UK Government has withdrawn support for Mediterranean search and rescue.

Protest in London on Saturday.
31 January, 2-5pm, at the Home Office, 2 Marsham St, London SW1P 4DF.

Read more: Three ways to save Syrian refugees.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Two out of every five civilians killed in 2014 could have been saved by a No-Fly Zone



• 42% of all civilians killed in 2014 were victims of Assad air attacks.

Of 17,582 civilians confirmed killed in 2014, 7,559 were recorded killed by air attacks according to the Violations Documentation Center in Syria. 163 of those were killed by the US-led Coalition air attacks, meaning 7,396 were killed by Regime air attacks: 42% of all civilians killed.

That minimum number of civilians killed in Syria in under four months by the US-led Coalition is now greater than the number of civilians killed by NATO’s seven month campaign in Libya (40 to 115). Unlike NATO’s Libya campaign, the US-led air campaign in Syria is not primarily intended to protect civilians.

• Over 95% of all the people killed by Assad air attacks in 2014 were civilians.

Total deaths by air attacks confirmed by the VDC in 2014 amounted to 7,954 people of which 227 were killed by the US-led Coalition, meaning 7,727 were killed by Assad regime air strikes. Only 395 were combatants, just under 5% of the overall total. 64 of those combatants were killed by the US-led Coalition, leaving 331 combatants killed by Assad regime air attacks,

For 2014, VDC list 17,369 civilians killed under ‘martyrs’ and 213 civilians killed under ‘regime’. VDC numbers are minimum counts of confirmed violent deaths and are likely to be significantly lower than the true totals. The UN minimum count up to the end of April 2014 shows over 80,000 more people killed than the VDC total for the same period.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Air attacks: 2014’s biggest killer of women and children

Over half the women and children killed in Syria last year could have been saved by a No-Fly Zone.



Of all violent deaths of women and children confirmed by the Violations Documentation Center in Syria, a majority were victims of attacks by Assad’s air force.

Of women killed, 50.9% were killed by Regime air attacks.

Of girls killed, 55.5% were killed by Regime air attacks.

Of boys killed, 50.6% were killed by Regime air attacks.

VDC numbers are a minimum count of confirmed killed, and show a major undercount when compared to UN minimum figures. They do however provide details on individual deaths not publicly available from other documenting groups. Their online database allows sorting by date, gender, cause of death, and more.

Below are the results from their database used to calculate the above percentages. Note that they list women and children both under “Martyrs” and “Regime fatalities”.

Adult women total victims: 1920+128=2048
Adult women victims of Regime air attacks: 1043
Adult women victims of Coalition air attacks: 2

Girl children total victims: 1144+91=1235
Girl children victims of Regime air attacks: 685
Girl children victims of Coalition air attacks: 5

Boy children total victims: 2384+150=2534
Boy children victims of Regime air attacks: 1283
Boy children victims of Coalition air attacks: 12

Thanks to Lopforum for inspiring this post.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

The number of civilians killed in Syria since 2011 is greater than the number of British civilians killed in the Second World War


For the entire conflict, the Violations Documentation Center in Syria has recorded 78,867 civilians killed to date, greater than the recorded number of British civilians killed in the Second World War.

The VDC is unable to record all violent deaths. By comparing their numbers to the UN’s most recent minimum count, it appears the true figure of civilians violently killed in Syria since March 2011 may well be over 137,000. All violent deaths, civilian and military, are now well over 200,000.

The UN’s minimum count of 191,369 violent deaths to the end of April 2014 was greater than Iraq Body Count’s number for total violent deaths in Iraq in the ten years from 2003 to 2013: 174,000 including combatants.

The UN Security Council passed Resolution 2139 in February of last year, demanding amongst other measures an end to aerial bombing of civilian areas. Enforcement of the resolution has been blocked by permanent member Russia, the principle supplier of arms and aircraft to Assad’s air force.

Individual states enjoying the privilege of UN Security Council membership now have a responsibility to act: specifically France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These three states have the proven ability to stop the Assad regime’s air attacks against civilians almost immediately. Their New Year’s resolution should now be to enforce the old year’s resolution.

Action is justified, in the words used by then Defence Minister George Robertson in the 1999 Parliamentary debate on the UK’s Kosovo intervention, “as an exceptional measure in support of purposes laid down by the UN Security Council, but without the Council's express authorisation.” Whether individually or collectively, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, must act now to stop this slaughter.

Protect civilians. Enforce UN Security Council Resolution 2139. Syria needs a No-Fly Zone.

• Photo: Firemen at work in bomb damaged street in London, after Saturday night raid, circa 1941. Source: US National Archives.