Monday, 30 March 2015

Just words? Ed Miliband and 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,, to read more:

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.



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:


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:


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.


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,

Press release from The Syria Campaign:

17th March 2015

Bissan Fakih,, +961 71 377 364


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, 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

Video: A rescue worker shows signs of intoxication

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.

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.


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.


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.


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


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