Assad, Appeasement, Aleppo and the Collapse of International Law

The latest ceasefire in Syria failed – and was always going to fail – due to a complete lack of will to enforce its provisions. This failure of the international community to respond to the worst humanitarian crisis of a generation is eroding the system of international laws and norms that underpin democratic societies.

As previously, the Syrian regime and its international backers used the ceasefire to prepare for a renewed military offensive. Fatally undermining the faith of Syrians in the political process, just as on every previous occasion, was the unwillingness of the outside world to protect civilians. As of 31st August 2016 107 airdrops of humanitarian supplies had been made to regime-held Deir Ez-Zur (besieged by ISIS) and 82 to regime-held Qamishli (besieged by Kurdish YPG forces). But not a single one had been made to any opposition-held part of the country. This is despite the fact that as the result of a UK government proposal, the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) had set a deadline of 1st June for the Assad regime to grant full humanitarian access to besieged areas. Since then, one of the seven most critical areas identified has been completely depopulated (Daraya) and East Aleppo has come under complete siege.

The Aleppo Council, Kesh Malek (a charity providing schooling, until the 27th September to children in Aleppo) and war surgeon David Nott report fierce barrages of napalm, cluster munitions, phosphorous, barrel bombs, chlorine gas and bunker buster bombs targeting the city’s underground hospitals and neighbourhoods. And John Kerry meekly warns that if Russia does not put an end to this, we will walk away from talks that the regime has never shown the slightest interest in.

Syria’s refugee crisis has already destabilised European politics, providing ammunition to the extreme left and right. It has pushed governments into contortions over their legal and moral responsibilities to those in desperate need of help. UNRWA today provides support to 5 million Palestinian refugees descended from 750,000 who were expelled from their homes in 1948. Today’s Syrian refugee population already numbers over 5 million. If you think (and you’d be right) that we’ve failed the refugees today, think how difficult it will be to provide for them in future.

For any political process to stand a chance, pressure has to be placed upon the Assad regime and its principle backers. At the very least, the UK should actively monitor Syrian airspace, tracking military flights by the regime and Russia, matching flights with attacks to determine which base each attack originates from and therefore which air force is responsible – and which officers and officials have command responsibility. Russian and Iranian military officers and officials identified as having command responsibility for attacks on civilian targets should be added to existing sanctions lists and preparations made for bringing war crimes charges. The UK should work with EU partners to impose new Syria-related sanctions on Russia and Iran, and call on Iraq to block Iranian flights through its airspace.

The RAF should press ahead with airdrops and airlifts to besieged areas; not just as a logistical second-best option for delivering aid, but as a means of pressing for ground access. And as advocated by the late Jo Cox, the UK should, with its allies, institute a no-bombing zone. This NBZ, or ‘deter and retaliate’ model no-fly zone would not require any boots on the ground or UK aircraft to enter Syrian airspace. It would not target Russian forces. But it would answer further air attacks against civilians with precision strikes against carefully selected regime military targets.

For Western political leaders, talks have become an end in themselves rather than a means to one. But over and over again, as red line after red line has been crossed, it has been demonstrated that diplomacy without pressure cannot deliver a political solution. When laws are not enforced; when there are no consequences for committing war crimes, they are repeated. This video shows what the ‘peace’ that Assad is imposing on the country looks like. Unless pressure is brought to bear upon the regime and its international backers, no inclusive or sustainable peace is conceivable.

Anyone wanting further information on Syria and on the opinions of Syrians living here, elsewhere in the diaspora and inside Syria are invited to follow the Liberal Democrats for Syrian Freedom, Peace and Reconstruction on our website or Facebook page or to email us on [email protected]

* Jonathan Brown is the Chair of the Chichester Party, founder of Liberal Democrats for Syrian Freedom, Peace and Reconstruction and is an executive committee member of the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats and the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine. He is writing here in a personal capacity.

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69 Comments

  • Jonathan Brown 30th Sep '16 - 10:22am

    Thanks John.

    I also don’t want to draw attention away from Syria, but I think it’s worth pointing out this from Amnesty International which was released yesterday:

    “harrowing evidence strongly suggesting the repeated use of chemical weapons against civilians, including very young children, in Jebel Marra – one the most remote parts of Darfur … Amnesty International estimates that between 200 and 250 people may have died as a result of exposure to chemical weapons agents. Many – or most – are children … at least 30 suspected chemical attacks have taken place so far this year.”
    https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/09/chemical-weapons-attacks-darfur/

    Not that Syrian lives are more important than Sudanese, just that Sudan isn’t my area of expertise. But it does strongly suggest that when fascistic governments work out that there is no repercussion for using chemical weapons against their own populations, they will do so – and repeatedly.

  • Assad, Assad, Assad…Russia, Russia, Russia….

    The ceasefire was destroyed by the Anglo/American killing of dozens of Syrian troops….Of course that was a mistake…
    So called peace talks seem to have the proviso that “Assad must go” (what ruler, especially one where most of the civilian population still support him, would accept those terms)….It was the rebels who said they would not accept the ceasefire…

    Neither Russia nor Assad were involved in the destruction of Iraq and Libya as viable states and yet this current mess (a continuation of Western interference in the ME) seems to have wiped our other disastrous adventures from memory….

  • Richard Underhill 30th Sep '16 - 12:11pm

    See also William Jefferson Clinton’s attempts to negotiate with the late President Assad, father of the current President Assad. He reported on an opportunity missed, partly because of Assad’s ill health late in life.
    ISBN 1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2, Hutchinson 2004.
    There are two more TV debates in the US Presidential elections. Hillary Rodham Clinton has travelled nearly a million miles to 118 countries as Secretary of State. This is a challenging problem, to put it mildly. The moderator chooses the questions and might well choose this one. Vague talk of “making America great again” would not be enough for Donald Trump, but does he have time to prepare in depth and campaign across the USA? That sort of talk led to a refusal by a Vice-Presidential Republican possible.

  • “The RAF should press ahead with airdrops and airlifts to besieged areas; not just as a logistical second-best option for delivering aid, but as a means of pressing for ground access.” – Would we be willing to do the same to end the starvation being imposed in Yemen by the blockade of Yemeni ports and the bombing campaign waged by our ‘allies’?

    “And as advocated by the late Jo Cox, the UK should, with its allies, institute a no-bombing zone. ” – As above, why are we so intent on stopping the Russians and Syrians from carpet bombing Aleppo while aiding and abetting the slaughter in Yemen?

    “the UK should actively monitor Syrian airspace, tracking military flights by the regime and Russia, matching flights with attacks to determine which base each attack originates from and therefore which air force is responsible – and which officers and officials have command responsibility.” – As above, should we not be holding the Saudis, Qataris and Emiratis to account, and potentially also American and British advisors, though I believe the Americans have now withdrawn from providing ISTAR functions to the Douhet-esque campaign being waged by the GCC alliance.

    “But it would answer further air attacks against civilians with precision strikes against carefully selected regime military targets.” – This would require the destruction of the Syrian air defence network and an assurance from the Russians that they wouldn’t engage Western military aircraft. Such a step could bring us into direct confrontation with Russian forces and should be avoided at all cost!

    For as long as we maintain a pathetic double standard of accepting our ‘allies’ in the GCC to run roughshod over international law vis a vis Yemen, we are in no place to dictate to Syria and Russia what they should and should not be doing. Yes, they are committing war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law, but we should be consistent in our condemnation and response. MPs on all sides and ministers lack the courage to stick their heads above the parapet and vocally condemn the actions of all those committing war crimes. That applied to LD MPs and ministers in the coalition too.

  • Jack Watson 30th Sep '16 - 2:37pm

    Looking at the awful situation today it’s difficult not to feel we made the wrong decision in 2013 when the House of Commons rejected intervention against Assad. However that is a whole other conversation.

    We missed our opportunity for military intervention when the Russians began their own intervention. I fear that Russian forces are so integrated within Syrian forces now that it would be near impossible to strike at one without hitting the other. Even if such strike did only hit Assad regime targets we cannot be certain that Russia wouldn’t claim we had intentionally struck against them. This tactic seems to bring us dangerously close to direct confrontation between Russia and NATO forces.

    More rigorous monitoring of air strikes may be possible, although we have no idea what our intelligence agencies are up to do it may already be being carried out. Certainly extended sanctions must be on the table but to be perfectly pessimistic about it, previous sanctions may have harmed Russia but they have not curbed its behaviour (yet).

    Unilateral humanitarian action may be the best we can hope for at the moment. If we wait for Bashar al-Assad’s permission to drop aid in Aleppo we may wait forever and the poor citizens do not have that long.

    Honestly I do not know what the solution is to this crisis. All I know is that walking away from talks will do nothing to end the war- you don’t succeed by pushing people away but by pulling them closer, however difficult that may be.

  • Eddie Sammon 30th Sep '16 - 3:12pm

    Yemen is not yet as bad as Syria, which is why Syria takes priority. As the Guardian have said: MSF share the co-ordinates of their hospitals in Yemen but they don’t in Syria anymore because they think in Syria they are being deliberately targeted.

    Even so, it’s very dangerous to start lumping pre-conditions on to helping innocents and hospital workers getting bombed.

    My views on Syria have hardened towards military intervention. The No Bombing Zone sounds like a great idea and I don’t know why there is so much silence when it comes to suggested solutions. We can’t just sit, watch and talk.

  • Eddie Sammon 30th Sep ’16 – 3:12pm……………..Yemen is not yet as bad as Syria, which is why Syria takes priority. As the Guardian have said: MSF share the co-ordinates of their hospitals in Yemen but they don’t in Syria anymore because they think in Syria they are being deliberately targeted……………..Even so, it’s very dangerous to start lumping pre-conditions on to helping innocents and hospital workers getting bombed…………My views on Syria have hardened towards military intervention. The No Bombing Zone sounds like a great idea and I don’t know why there is so much silence when it comes to suggested solutions. We can’t just sit, watch and talk………..

    As has been mentioned it’s our ‘Allies’ who are targeting civilians in Yemen so we have far more ‘clout’ ( had we the will to use it) in that tragedy…Why not act where we can?…

    As for military intervention; we’ve tried that elsewhere and made things a lot worse….Like Cameron’s promises to Libya, when the bombing stops and the press lose interest, such promises evaporate like faerie gold….

    All wars end and, sooner or later, we will talk….Assad is going nowhere, there is no moderate opposition capable of replacing him, Isis and their ilk are the only other alternative….I know which of the two I prefer…

    Most Syrians like their secular state; overthrowing Assad will remove the last such state in the region…

  • Joseph Bourke 30th Sep '16 - 5:09pm

    Western forces are in Iraq at the request of the elected government. The intervention in Libya was authorised by a resolution of the UN security council. The Saudi’s and GCC have entered the Yemen conflict at the behest of President Hadi and his elected government in exile.

    The only forces in Syria at the request of the as yet undeposed Assad regime are the Russians, Iranians and Hezbollah. While the Assad regime will tolerate air attacks on ISIS, Al Nusrah and other opponents of the regime;bombing of Syrian military targets by Western air forces would be an act of aggression under International law that would give the elected Syrian regime the legitimate right to defend it’s territory.

    Recognition of the de facto partition of Syria and creation of a new state(s) is probably the only way forward now – but this still needs to be backed by Nato to make it enforceable. That means British, French and American air power combined with Turkish or GCC troops on the ground to both eject ISIS and guarantee the safety of the returning refugees on one side and Russian/Iranian forces on the Assad side to guarantee the safety of the Alawaite/Shia/Orthodox Christian population on the other. A messy compromise, but perhaps the only remaining option to the genocide and mass expulsions that are taking place before our eyes.

  • Eddie Sammon 30th Sep '16 - 5:18pm

    We might have more clout with our allies, but our allies also have more clout with us. It’s not an excuse to say “what about Yemen” everytime Syria is brought up.

    The problem with the partition of Syria idea is everyone except the Kurds seem to be against it, although it still might have to happen to protect people in the territory.

  • Jonathan Brown 30th Sep '16 - 6:32pm

    @expats – certainly the US bombing of Syrian troops in Deir Ez-Zur put great pressure on the ceasefire, but one incident – however dramatic – is not what is making Syria and Russia pound civilians in Aleppo. The rebels rejected the ceasefire for the reasons I’ve outlined – but they mostly kept to it for the week.

    What evidence do you have that most of the population support Assad? The entirely rigged election? Whether or not Assad goes is not the point I’m making: if no pressure is put on him and his backers, then there are zero prospects for a successful peace process.

    The ‘secular state’ that Syrians like is no longer any such thing. You only need to see the huge numbers of Shia extremist militias being assembled to do much of the fighting in and around Aleppo to see that: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/sep/29/aleppo-attack-foreign-syrian-fighters-plan-shia-islamic

    @Chris – re: Yemen – quite possibly. Yemen isn’t a country I know a great deal about, so don’t have a great deal to say on the subject.

    Pinpoint attacks carried out on regime military assets – with cruise missiles, for example – would not require the destruction of the Syrian air defence network. Although attacks on that network could in themselves be examples of the kind of retaliation that the regime would face for attacking civilians. The proposals I’ve outlined explicitly avoid confrontation with Russian assets. Even attacks on hospitals carried out by Russian aircraft would result in action being taken against Syrian regime targets rather than Russian ones.

  • Jonathan Brown 30th Sep '16 - 6:39pm

    @Joseph Bourke – I think talk of partition is a distraction at best, fuel for the flames at worst. As Eddie says, appart from many Kurds, no Syrians want that (I’d be surprised if Kurds living in Damascus think that partition is the answer to their problems).

    Syria is a diverse and mixed country and not only do most Syrians want to maintain that but the communities are spread throughout the country. Only large scale ethnic cleansing could make it happen, and if you’re supporting that, what’s the point? If you were willing to put the troops in to forcibly partition the country, why not put troops in to just end the war? If you’re not willing to put troops in, then partition simply isn’t going to happen.

    As for attacks on Syrian regime forces being an act of aggression, that may well be the case, but UN resolutions already authorise the delivery of aid to besieged communities against the will of the regime, which logically leads to authorisation to defend such deliveries if they come under attack. There is also an international Responsibility to Protect (R2P). Tony Blair did his best to discredit this principle, but it exists.

    Besides, the US has already enforced not just a no bombing zone, but in effect a no fly zone: https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/news/2016/9/12/syrian-regime-war-planes-abandon-airbase-following-us-warnings

  • Joseph Bourke 30th Sep '16 - 7:20pm

    Jonathan,

    this ECHR report makes the argument for federalisation of Syria along the lines of the former Yugoslavia settlement http://www.ecfr.eu/page/-/ECFR185_-_NO_GOING_BACK_-_WHY_DECENTRALISATION_IS_THE_FUTURE_FOR_SYRIA.pdf.

    John Kerry put partition on the table as a ‘plan B’ back in February and both Turkey and Saudi Arabia are reportedly ready to commit ground troops to achieve this given the nod from the USA.

    This month the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, took a public stand for the federalization of Syria. He said that the establishment of a federal system in Syria would “guarantee to preserve the institutions and unity” and that a federal system would be “the most appropriate solution and will protect the country from destruction.

    Whatever name it goes by – partition, federalisation, decentralisation – it involves autonomous governance of regions (largely but not exclusively) based on territory as currently held by the Assad regime, rebel forces and kurdish groups respectively – with ISIS controlled areas of Syria falling to those who can take them from this group.

  • Joseph Bourke

    Isn’t it strange,… how you judge an elected government, is only a legitimately elected government,.. until *you* decide,… it’s a regime.?

    Assad,.. whatever we think about him, was democratically elected. Let’s not forget that the Saudis don’t even bother with the inconvenient niceties of democratic elections..! But hey!,..no matter,… they buy £50 billion’s worth of BAe armaments,.. so let’s all just ignore their ‘Yemeni death machine’,…look away, and pretend those Saudi’s are really,.. really, nice people.?

    I recall Joseph,..you having similar views of an legally elected government in Ukraine, until [you and] Washington, decided it was a regime, and they sent Victoria Newland to destabilise it.? How did that Ukraine government overthrow work out Joseph.?

    There appears to be an unshakable recurrence of this same foul hypocrisy, born from the same template of a constant ‘wrong answer’ ~ liberalism.?
    ~ If the voters are stupid enough to elect the *wrong government* it is a regime.
    ~ If you ‘knuckle draggers’ choose the *wrong referendum answer*, you must choose again.

    Seriously,…is there an ‘off switch’ to this … liberal madness,..?

  • Jonathan Brown 30th Sep '16 - 8:57pm

    @Joseph – I see, thanks for the clarification – I think that’s quite an important distinction. If there is to be any peaceful outcome then I agree, I think some kind of territorial division between parts of the country help by opposing groups is probably inevitable, at least in the short-medium term. There are still important differences between that and formal partition however. And I don’t see even an informal partition being sustainable without the root causes of the uprising and conflict being addressed.

    I’ll have a read of the ECFR document with interest.

    @J Dunn – I don’t know what gives you the idea that the Assad regime is democratic. Holding (rigged) elections and being democratic are two quite different things. That’s not to say that Assad has no popular support. (My guess would be that between a quarter and a third of the pre-war population support him with various degrees of sincerity.)

  • Our involvement in the middle east has been one dismal failure after another. We should steer clear and only commit military forces to situations that directly affect Britain. There is virtually no popular support for further involving our military in these well intentioned but misguided attempts at regime change.

  • Jonathan Brown 30th Sep '16 - 10:20pm

    Thanks for the link @Joe – it’s a very good article that makes many of the points I’ve been making.

    @Glenn – UK involvement in the Middle East has seen plenty of dismal failures, but it’s not true to say that everything has gone wrong. The No Fly Zone over northern Iraq post-the 1991 Gulf War enabled the Iraqi Kurds to build a moderately successful proto-state – in peace. And clearly the liberation of Kuwait was good for the Kuwaitis. Elsewhere, such as Sierra Leone, military intervention has saved huge numbers of lives.

    I would certainly challenge your isolationist stance. We live in an interconnected world and I believe every life matters. Where we can usefully act to prevent incredible slaughter, I believe we should do so.

    I think it’s worth clarifying that this article isn’t calling for regime change. (I think had this objective been pursued things would have been much less bad than they are now, but that’s another argument.) This article calls for applying the kind of pressure needed to bring the Assad regime to the negotiating table, or at the very least, to implement a dramatic de-escalation of violence that would enable civilians to live without fear of bombing and would enable aid to get to those who need it.

    I think it’s also worth pointing out that this war does directly affect Britain. Hundreds of our citizens have received paramilitary training and combat experience in the country. Scores of our citizens are being held, in effect, hostage by the so-called Islamic state. Other of our citizens providing medical aid have been murdered by the Assad regime. The torrent of refugees is destabilising our continent and playing into the hands of domestic political extremists and populists. And of course it is a major factor in tipping Turkey back into a vicious war, it fed the violence in Iraq and threatens the security and economies of allies we have deep relationships with such as Jordan. Simply, this conflict impacts us in a huge way.

  • Eddie Sammon 30th Sep '16 - 10:43pm

    The No Bombing Zone isn’t a hawkish option – I have recently come to support a full no-fly zone, not knowing the No Bombing Zone option was available. But Jonathan Brown’s and other’s No Bombing Zone will be attractive for many who are concerned about deeper military intervention.

    If the No Bombing Zone fails to provide enough deterrent then a full no fly zone should be considered. The big difference being rather than simply provide retaliation, the latter shoots the bombers out of the sky.

  • Jonathon’
    The fact that after Libya and Iraq you still believe regime change would have improved anything tells me exactly why I disagree with with you.

  • Jonathan Brown 30th Sep '16 - 11:11pm

    @Glenn – I’m talking about Iraq 1991. The invasion in 2003 was clearly always going to be a disaster and I opposed it utterly.

    The 2011 Libyan intervention is a very different thing. Clearly the outcome isn’t as good as we’d have hoped, but as John McHugo points out – hardly any Libyans wished for Gadafi to stay. And you underestimate how close Libyans came to making a success of things. Even now, it’s not hopeless. And Libya is in a much better state than is Syria!

    Basically, we need to use our heads, look at the evidence and decide accordingly on the best course of action. In some cases that may mean intervention, although I repeat the point made in my article: it’s not about regime change. It’s about applying the pressure necessary to give peace talks a chance.

    @John – thanks for the very useful and informative comments.

  • Jonathon;
    You said “I think had this objective been pursued things would be less bad than they are now”.
    Well of course most Libyans don’t want Gaddafi back. If you had flattened Spain in 1970 to remove Franco, most Spaniard would have said they didn’t want Franco back. If you bombed my house to remove a leaky tap, I would not miss the leaky tap. The point is it doesn’t mean that they wanted to have their institutions and civil society destroyed. I’m sorry, I think the logic of vague high minded interventionism with the even vaguer aim of instigating some sort of nebulas change causes more problems than it solves.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 1st Oct '16 - 1:04am

    It is a failure of past complacency too, putting it mildly, always the present leaders of the free world get the most criticism, something Jonathan, typical of a true Liberal Democrat , avoids , in his balanced passionate article.

    Only a while ago, Jenny Jones, Baroness for the Greens , was on Question Time , on BBC1, saying , she lived in Assads Syria years ago , and it was a good place to live in ! You couldn’t make it up !

  • Jonathan Brown 1st Oct '16 - 1:48am

    Thanks @Lorenzo – I used to live in Syria too (about half of the time between 2004-2007). In many ways it was a hopeful place. It felt to me that things were improving in many ways, and Syrians were generally pretty proud of their achievements; especially their welcoming, multi-faith, multi-ethnic society.

    It was easy however to miss the signs of growing desperation in parts of the country though, as droughts drove rural people from the land and inflation made many poorer as the economy was partially liberalised (in a crony-capitalist sort of way).

    It made the nature of the protests against the regime in 2011 – and that continue in parts of the country to this day – all the more impressive. The creativity, the humanity, the singing, the artistry, the inclusivity of it all. And Assad wrecked it. He had been genuinely popular with many, and respected / tolerated by many more. But he threw it all away, choosing slaughter over reform.

    @Glenn – There’s no evidence that I’m aware of that significant numbers of Libyans regret the revolution against Gadafi, nor the support they received at the time. They may be angry with the way things have turned out, but that doesn’t mean most of them think they were better off before.

  • Jonathon’
    I never said they did. I’m just arguing that it did no good for either us or Libya. However, I would suggest the number Libyan refugees is significant. Plus how many damning reports are going to be generated before calls for more pointless interventions stops.

  • The reason we don’t drop humanitarian supplies to the opposition is because if we do so we will be directly supplying terrorist groups. Its the same reason we don’t supply the Kurds. Interestingly we’re not that bothered that ISIS have now emerged as a faction in the misery we left behind in Libya.

    The very problem here is regime change for geopolitical advantage. That’s why we’re in Syria supporting Al Qaeda in their bid to take over from Assad and not supporting the UN mission in the Congo where our forces are really needed before we end up with a repeat of the Rwandan genocide.

  • Jonathan Brown 1st Oct '16 - 10:15am

    @Kol – You appear to be advocating the kind of strategy that the regime is pursuing: starvation of civilian populations as a form of collective punishment. In fact, as the continuing demonstrations against groups likes Nusra / JFS show, supporting civilian populations and civil society is a key part in enabling Syrians to resist the influence of such groups as well as keep them alive in the face of regime sieges. You might want to read about such efforts here: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/protests-continue-against-al-nusra-front-northern-syrian-town-maarat-al-numan-2075849140

    As that article also makes clear, there are many parts of the country – particularly in the south of Syria – where opposition groups are NOT allied with Nusra/JFS, so your argument holds no water

    I’m all for supporting the UN mission in DRC, and look forward to your article promoting it. But that doesn’t mean we should turn our backs on another humanitarian catastrophe.

    @Glenn – You can argue that intervention in Libya did no good for Libyans or for us, but if Libyans think it was a good thing, then you don’t really have any evidence for your claim. You also ignore the fact that most of the refugees attempting to get to Europe through Libya are not Libyans, and you ignore the fact that for two years post-intervention Libya was doing reasonably well. The violence there has escalated dramatically over the last couple of years but such an outcome was not inevitable. It’s always difficult arguing ‘what ifs’, I appreciate that, but it’s difficult to argue that Libya or Libyans would have been better off if we hadn’t supported the anti-Gadafi forces (which themselves were supported by most Libyans).

  • jedibeeftrix 1st Oct '16 - 11:10am

    @ Joesph – “this ECHR report makes the argument for federalisation of Syria along the lines of the former Yugoslavia settlement”

    Does this argument make a requirement the formal integration of palestinian ‘refugees’ into this federal state? And if not, should it?

  • Jayne Mansfield 1st Oct '16 - 11:12am

    We need the equivalent of another Chilcott inquiry into our interventions or lack of, in Libya, where David Cameron and others are forced to give evidence an all the evidence can be evaluated..

  • Jonathon

    This argument is pointless. It was a huge mess. I just hope that Theresa May has the good sense to steer clear of involving Britain in any more of this interventionist folly.

  • Jonathon, the person you are suggesting is advocating collective punishment then isn’t me, but rather the United States Agency for International Development who have stated that in their reasons for not using airdrops for the aid. If your main interest is in the civilian population then you need to start asking if it is time that we stopped being a part of the war.

    I would much prefer it if we made it absolutely clear that it is not our intention to force regime change on the region in accordance with international law then work with the Syrian government to remove ISIS and Al-Qaeda forces from Syria as part of a properly organised United Nations Peacekeeping mission. If it is deemed that Assad needs to stand trial for War Crimes then he should do so much like Milosovic.

  • Richard Underhill 1st Oct '16 - 11:43am

    First catch your hare.

  • Ben Midgley 1st Oct '16 - 12:53pm

    Thank you Jonathan for this detailed and properly considered article about Syria, not Yemen, Libya or Iraq, nor even Russia, or Iran, but Syria – the most miserable country on our benighted planet at the moment, beyond dispute.

    I cannot see how the NBZ’s could be achieved without entering Syrian airspace and would like to understand that more, but in principle wholly agree with your view.

    The political chaos here at home cannot be an excuse for inaction, in fact, on the contrary, action might be just what is required to give us some much needed perspective on our own petty squabbles, and real international vulnerability.

    I’m sure however on past performance that our government has a plan, never fear, Boris is near.

  • Steve Trevethan 1st Oct '16 - 4:03pm

    Alas, the current cruelties in Syria are part of a series of hybrid wars which are a strategic policy of the US.
    US General Wesley Clark is on record that, shortly after 9/11, a fellow general told him,”We’re going to take out seven countries –starting with Iraq and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia and then finishing off Iran”. [Global Research 14/05/16]
    “Hybrid Wars are externally provoked asymmetrical conflicts predicated on sabotaging concrete geo-economic interests.” Use is made of ethnic, religious, regional etc.vulnerabilities within the targeted state. [from A. Korybko GR 05/03/16]

  • Ben Midgley 1st Oct '16 - 4:15pm

    The only alas is the condition of the people and the lame deflections everyone keeps coming up with to avoid dealing with the actual issue.

  • Steve Trevethan 1st Oct '16 - 5:09pm

    The basic issue is the American Empire and its policy of world domination. Please look at “Toward a Global Realignment” by Zbigniew Brezinski, “The American Interest 17/04/16

  • Ben Midgley 1st Oct '16 - 5:52pm

    Personally Steve, I think we need to talk specifically about the practicality of no fly zones in Syria. The RAF showing up, and keeping the bombs from dropping and hurting innocent civilians – that’s all.

  • Syria’s tragedy is that there are three overlapping wars being fought out in its territory. Some are calling it the “first theatre of WW3”. Scarily, they have a point

    Firstly, the civil war that would almost certainly have been over quickly but brutally had it stayed at that.

    Secondly, a regional war with most of Syria’s neighbours looking for some sort of advantage. Religious fundamentalists in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere back like-minded extremists with money and arms and are set on religiously cleansing the country of those they deem impious. We’ve seen the dreadful reality of that with the Yazidis and others including the ancient Christian community. The Qataris want a pipeline to Europe via Syria for their gas (much cheaper than shipping). President Erdogan is widely believed to have designs on rebuilding the Ottoman Empire starting with bits of Syria.

    So this really isn’t primarily about Assad himself. For his Alawite community and other minorities it’s an existential fight. For the many moderate Sunnis too it’s a fight to keep the crazies at bay.

    Thirdly, it’s part of US neocons’ plan for global domination as Steve Trevethan says. Syria – partly at the behest of Israel – has long been on their hit-list. That is why the US has numerous special forces in the country helping the jihadists (in Orwellian NewSpeak they apparently don’t count as “Boots on the Ground”) and has been supplying advanced arms to Al Qaeda ‘affiliates’, the very people the invasion of Afghanistan was supposed to root out and destroy. That is also why US forces ‘didn’t spot’ road tanker convoys that stretched to the horizon across open desert carrying ISIS oil to Turkey.

    Russia knows it’s also on that hit-list so for Russia (supported by China) this is a line in the sand they must draw to stop US expansionism. The article title talks of the “collapse of international law”. But Russia is there legally; we aren’t.

    Finally, for those who think some sort of no-fly zone would solve anything here’s what General Dunford, Chairman of the (US) Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress recently (you may need to click on ‘view content’ to see video).

    https://twitter.com/Syricide/status/779475480596578304

  • Wow…..Jonathan Brown’s polemical mix of half-truth and flagrantly inaccurate slanted perspective, with a horrifying conviction of actions that would catastrophically worsen millions more lives in Syria, is impressive in its sheer audacity…. Almost every sentence at best hides the fuller Syrian picture that would show his propositions to be truly awful ….. so to start cleaning this Augean stable….
    1. “The Syrian regime and its international backers used the ceasefire to prepare for a renewed military offensive.” Everybody was! In the previous ceasefire, “rebels” took the initiative against the Syrian govt. The latest ceasefire meant some “rebels” (Jund Al-Aqsa (Syrian Al-Qaeda franchise), Jund Al-Sham (Chechen jihadists), & Ibna Al-Sham peeled away from fighting by Aleppo city, east of their Idlib province stronghold, to instead capture a clutch of villages to the South, in Northern Hama province.
    2. “Fatally undermining the faith of Syrians in the political process…..was the unwillingness of the outside world to protect civilians” Most Syrians undoubtedly want peace, but you’re deluded to believe most wouldn’t wish to return to how life was before the “Arab Spring”, or millions more Syrians in govt areas would support your call to remove Assad or strike the Syrian govt.
    3. “But not a single one (of 107 humanitarian supplies) had been made to any opposition-held part of the country. ” Agreed drops weren’t for areas under siege between non-ISIS “rebels” and the govt, as “Rebels” refused drops to govt enclaves in Idlib province. Your partial fact on Qamishli air-drops masks the bigger truth that Syrian Kurdish militia areas are broadly neutral or tactitly allied to the Syrian govt against other “rebels”). Pushes for “Kurdification” in Hasakah province in August briefly stirred a flurry of hostilities between them there.
    4. “one of the seven most critical areas identified has been completely depopulated (Daraya) and East Aleppo has come under complete siege”
    Daraya population was c.80k. But most fled when “rebels” took control. Recently, the syrian army forced the rebels to surrender, and negotiated with them to move out. So 700 rebel fighters, together with a few hundred more civilians (some fighter families) were transported to “rebel” Idlib province. Thousands are now finally returning as a war front thankfully disappears.

  • Jonathan Brown 1st Oct '16 - 11:17pm

    I’ll respond to the conspiracy theorists later, but @Ben – on the No Bombing Zone:

    Jo Cox laid out some of the reasons for calling for NBZ in her speech to parliament on 12 October 2015: “While I do not believe that there is a purely military solution to this conflict, I do believe that there will be a military component to any viable solution.”
    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmhansrd/cm151012/debtext/151012-0004.htm#1510133000001

    Muhamed Sacirbey, former ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina spells out how it could help and how it would be implemented here:

    “While the West’s military intervention in Bosnia didn’t solve all our problems, it was decisive in moving Bosnia and the region from war to peace — a process that still continues, albeit highly imperfectly. There is every reason to believe that similar action and determination, centered on stopping aerial bombardment of civilians, would provide similar benefits to Syria and the world.

    …Unlike Bosnia’s no-fly zone, Syria’s no-bombing zone wouldn’t necessitate putting aircraft over Syrian skies and boots on the ground. Instead, it would rely on cruise missiles to retaliate against Syrian military assets if and when the Syrian government attacked innocent civilians. A limited intervention of this kind would dramatically lower the death toll and it would propel the Syrian regime to the negotiating table. It would make clear that there was no credible alternative to peace talks and that a military solution would not work. This, in turn, would lay the foundations for the political solution that Syrians desperately need.

    …We can help Syrians end this nightmare — we just have to want to.”

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/global-opinions/wp/2016/09/09/western-military-intervention-saved-lives-in-bosnia-it-can-work-in-syria-too/?utm_term=.a94016460f4b

  • Jonathan Brown 1st Oct '16 - 11:18pm

    Charles Lister, Senior Fellow at the Middle East Institute and a Senior Consultant to The Shaikh Group’s Syria Track II Dialogue Initiative, and one of the best-informed people on the planet on the dynamics of the Syrian opposition groups providers further details on how to avoid the risks of escalation in his ‘plan for winding down the Syrian civil war’ here:

    “…pre-selected targets could include non-critical Syrian military infrastructure located far from populated areas, excluding Damascus or the coastal provinces of Tartus or Latakia and areas staffed by Russian personnel. This objective would be to select targets significant enough to send the necessary signal to the Assad regime, but not so critical as to over-escalate. To avoid any airspace conflicts, the United States would plan to use stand-off military weapons, like cruise missiles, for any necessary punitive measures…

    …Russia’s military headquarters in the Latakia-based Hmeymim Airbase would be pre-informed several hours in advance of any U.S. cruise missile strike. The plan to issue warnings to Russia would be made explicitly public to prevent Russia from moving its forces or even civilians or prisoners to an intended target in a cynical attempt to deter a strike. The United States would also make clear that once a warning had been issued, the planned stand-off strike would take place. That any such strikes would be targeting non-critical regime military infrastructure away from populated areas or otherwise sensitive areas would also minimize the necessity for Russia to take what would be an extraordinarily bold move in counter-escalating.”

    http://warontherocks.com/2016/09/a-plan-for-winding-down-the-syrian-civil-war/

  • Ben Midgley 2nd Oct '16 - 8:44am

    Thank you Jonathan, the cruise missile is the technical aspect I hadn’t grasped.

  • Ben Midgley 2nd Oct '16 - 8:58am

    To some or any of the detractors that seemed to have zeroed in on this article, I have heard no solutions offered, no better ideas, no end to the blood shed put before us, and I think the point of this article is to get a consensus of opinion on what to do next, not to just dismiss, in pretty aggressive terms may I say, what is under discussion.

    No fly zones work, and yes it’s dangerous, and complex, and not a silver bullet, but the status quo is not working. In fact the status quo is so damaging on so many fronts, that unless we alter it, it will alter us all in ways I am not prepared to accept.

  • Jonathan Brown 2nd Oct '16 - 11:11am

    Thanks Ben. Just to add a little more detail to the NBZ proposal, Charles Lister, Senior Fellow at the Middle East Institute and a Senior Consultant to The Shaikh Group’s Syria Track II Dialogue Initiative, and one of the best-informed people on the planet on the dynamics of the Syrian opposition groups providers further details on how to avoid the risks of escalation in his ‘plan for winding down the Syrian civil war’ here:

    “…pre-selected targets could include non-critical Syrian military infrastructure located far from populated areas, excluding Damascus or the coastal provinces of Tartus or Latakia and areas staffed by Russian personnel. This objective would be to select targets significant enough to send the necessary signal to the Assad regime, but not so critical as to over-escalate. To avoid any airspace conflicts, the United States would plan to use stand-off military weapons, like cruise missiles, for any necessary punitive measures…

    …Russia’s military headquarters in the Latakia-based Hmeymim Airbase would be pre-informed several hours in advance of any U.S. cruise missile strike. The plan to issue warnings to Russia would be made explicitly public to prevent Russia from moving its forces or even civilians or prisoners to an intended target in a cynical attempt to deter a strike. The United States would also make clear that once a warning had been issued, the planned stand-off strike _would_ take place. That any such strikes would be targeting non-critical regime military infrastructure away from populated areas or otherwise sensitive areas would also minimize the necessity for Russia to take what would be an extraordinarily bold move in counter-escalating.”

    http://warontherocks.com/2016/09/a-plan-for-winding-down-the-syrian-civil-war/

  • On JBrown’s citation of ‘Aleppo Council”, it sounds like a civilian entity -like Chichester Council. But it is nothing of the sort. It actual title is “Council of Aleppo Rebels”, a unit of the FSA, established 2 years ago.
    This explains why it supports the 2k “rebel” fighters viewpoint in Aleppo!
    Wikipedia notes that this group rejected UN’s envoy Staffan de Mistura proposal for a ceasefire in Aleppo.

  • Jonathan Brown 2nd Oct '16 - 11:17am

    @Kol, Steve, Gordon and Tomas who to varying degrees are all blaming this catastrophe on the US, Israel and the UK. If there really was a policy of regime change, don’t you think this could have been achieved in 5 years?

    Re: working with the Assad regime vs. ISIS and Nusra… When the regime kills an order of magnitude more Syrian civilians than does ISIS, how do you think you’re going to win the support of the Syrian population for that fight? Syrians have resisted ISIS themselves – militarily (driving them out of northern Syria in 2014 before being stabbed in the back by the Assad regime) and non-militarily (with civil society groups providing education in secret schools to girls even in ISIS’ capital of Raqqa. So Syrians are not unwilling to confron them, nor Nusra, as I’ve already pointed out. But their priority is the regime which is destroying their country and driving millions from their homes.

    As for Russian armed forces being in the country at the invitation of the Syrian government, that’s true. As are the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah, various Iraqi and Afghan sectarian militias (who since the disintegration of the Syrian Army are making up the bulk of the forces massing to wipe out opposition held Aleppo). But being present legally in the country does not make the campaigns against Syrian civilians legal. Deliberately targetting hospitals is a war crime. Deliberately targetting journalists is a war crime. Collective punishment of civilians by placing them under siege is a war crime. The use of chemical weapons is a war crime. This is why international law is collapsing.

    And yes, the Aleppo Council only represents ‘Free Aleppo’, but it was elected and is accountable to the people, unlike the Baathis dictatorship and its multiple secret services, the criminal gangs and sectarian militias which dominate regime-held parts of the country.

    I’ve never denied that armed opposition groups have committed war crimes or broken ceasefires. Some of them clearly have. But a) this isn’t really the point of this article which is talking about all Syrians, including and especially civilians and b) proportionality is important. Previous ceasefires – and this one – survived low level infringements by actors on both sides. This ceasefire could not survive the dramatic escalation on eastern Aleppo with the heaviest aerial bombing of civilian targets yet seen.

  • Steve Trevethan 2nd Oct '16 - 11:17am

    Long term, foundation solutions might include the acceptance of a multipolar world and greater accuracy in the analyses and reporting of potential and actual hybrid wars.
    Short term solutions might include accurate auditing of weapon supply, and of the trading and money acquisition, banking and spending of the Al Qaeda derivatives who appear to be intent upon setting up their own state. Such a state appears to be rather nasty and worse than Syria was when it was relatively stable.
    Non military approaches are usually less harmful and longer lasting.
    Send in the auditors!

  • Jonathan Brown 2nd Oct '16 - 12:26pm

    @Steve – That’s another lovely ‘feel good, but head in the sand’ suggestion, which does nothing to hasten the end of the war.

    Firstly, it ignores how even ISIS funds itself. “Money raised from taxes, fees, fines and confiscations accounted for 33% of the group’s income, up from 12% the previous year” so to choke off that source of funding you either have to kill the Syrians they’re extorting to just defeat them militarily.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-27838034

    Of the oil & gas which makes up roughly another 40% of their funding, much of it goes to the domestic market and Iraq, although clearly there is still smuggling to the ‘export’ market going on. I don’t know the extent to which the Assad regime is still dealing directly with ISIS, including buying oil from it, but whatever the case is now, it is certainly true that the regime promoted the rise of ISIS.
    https://www.ft.com/content/92f4e036-6b69-11e5-aca9-d87542bf8673

    Finally of course, as nice as ‘sending in the auditors’ sounds, that won’t help the vastly greater number of Syrians being killed by the regime than by ISIS. Even if your proposal to cut off funding to ISIS could be achieved, you would still be left with the far bigger problem which my article is addressing, namely, how to get the regime to invest in a ceasefire and peace talks.

  • Jayne Mansfield 2nd Oct '16 - 12:28pm

    @ Jonathan Brown,
    If I might answer one of the questions that you pose giving you my view.

    No, Ido not think that if the aim was regime change it would have been achieved in five years.

    Getting rid of Saddam Hussein and then Gaddafi was comparatively easy, ( I don’t remember anyone mentioning that the intervention in Libya was going to slide into regime), but this comparative ease made some too confident that Assad would be as easy to remove. The fact that for Russia the removal of Assad would be a red line than they could not allow others to cross, and the relationship with Iran means that the fight is now not only sectarian but also a proxy war that we were too prepared to blunder into.

    Non -military approaches are , in my opinion, likely to be lead to less devastating and more effective outcomes.

    May I refer to a United nations Security Council meeting held on the 29th September-

    ‘ As Humanitarian Catastrophe in Syria continues, Under -General -Secretary urges security council find common humanity, End unbridled horror’.

    ( sorry I unable to provide link).

  • Jonathan Brown 2nd Oct '16 - 12:46pm

    @Tomas – You’re not going to get very far quoting Wikipedia on this subject, especially when you’re not even googling the right entity. I’m not talking about a military unit of the FSA.

    Instead, you should listen to Syrians. For example, you could follow the Aleppo Council facebook page: https://ar-ar.facebook.com/Free.Aleppo.Governorate/

    Should you do so, you will find that this civilian administration is involved in running school tests, operating bus routes, providing public services, etc.

  • Steve Trevethan 2nd Oct '16 - 1:18pm

    Unless there are modern arms factories within Syria and/or the areas controlled by the Al Qaeda derivatives, the weapons used to kill, maim and derange the victims of this particular war, come from somewhere else. Accurate and honest auditing would tells us who is supplying these tools of death and we might then do something about getting these suppliers visible and even managed.
    Are there any modern arms factories in the relevant conflict ares?

  • Jonathan Brown 2nd Oct '16 - 1:35pm

    @Jayne – thanks for your comment. I think you’re partially right. Some of the complacency and some of the rhetoric from Western leaders has been fuelled both by a belief that ‘regime change’ would come about relatively easily, and that it might come about with minimal direct intervention. You’re also right that Iran and Russia have intervened decisively on several occasions when it looked like the regime was on the brink of military collapse.

    But support for the armed revolutionaries (a subject I’m not addressing in my article) has always been pretty limited. Much of it has been restricted to non-lethal equipment, and even when arms and ammunition was getting to the Free Syrian Army, supply was haphazard. One of the reasons for the loss of influence of the more moderate units in the country is that they would capture ground from the government and then find that the US would cut off their supplies, leaving them vulnerable to regime counter-attack.

    In any case, my article isn’t talking about or promoting regime change (which is another subject entirely). It’s about bringing to bear the pressure required to make diplomacy appear more attractive to the regime than more war.

    @Tomas – further to my previous comment, here is the Aleppo Council’s actual website: http://aleppogov.com/

    @Steve – Identifying where the arms come from is not a particularly significant problem. We know that many of the arms being used by rebels is equipment captured from regime military bases. We know that CIA has enabled supplies of TOW rockets (probably provided by Saudi Arabia) to reach the FSA units in the south of the country. Large quantities of small arms have been smuggled in from Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. The planes and helicopters used by the regime have been sold to the government by Russia. The question is what are we going to do about it? My article is about how to get the principle actors to choose ceasefire over war.

  • Jayne Mansfield 3rd Oct '16 - 11:37am

    @ Jonathan Brown,
    Jonathan you may consider the following as appeasement, and possibly it is, but do you really think that Putin and his puppet Assad are susceptible to any pressure, diplomatic or otherwise. Would their ego’s ever allow them to contemplate backing down?

    The civilians are besieged ( in contravention of international law,) because the area is rebel held. Isn’t the quickest way to relieve their agony for the rebels to leave? How many of the people in the rebel areas support them or believe that support for them is worth the price they are currently paying?

    I believe that there is no appetite from the West for any action that might lead to further military escalation, therefore I am unsure what pressure can be applied strongly enough on people like Putin and Assad who must know that.

    It seems to me that this is going to be a terrifying fight to the death. The United Nations are keeping records of war crimes but that is of little value for those who can still be saved.

  • Steve Trevethan 3rd Oct '16 - 1:41pm

    Overt arms trading between sovereign state is reasonable if sometimes regrettable. The covert arming of Al Qaeda derivatives by the CIA shows that this conflict/”revolt” is being managed by the US and its allies, including us.
    One thing we could do is to persuade our party to look at the “R2P” policy analytically and realistically. It was misused in Libya and its misuse continues, often in conjunction with a “colored revolution”. [See Global Research 05/03/2014: E Golinger]

  • Jonathan Brown 3rd Oct '16 - 9:25pm

    @Jayne – Putin and Assad are susceptible to pressure, and we have seen this happen previously. When Assad gassed over 1000 people in Damascus in 2013 it looked for a moment as though the world was going to respond. Beirut was flooded with fleeing regime loyalists and the regime jumped at the chance to officially scrap its chemical weapons. (A process begun but never completed, and further use of such weapons has gone unpunished.)

    To call Assad the pupet of Putin is also to miss something important about the relationship. While Assad is far too weak to survive on his own – even Iranian, Iraqi and Lebanese support has not been enough to prevent his gradual military reversals at the hands of rebels – he knows full well that Putin can’t abandon him without risking losing everything. I believe Putin has genuinly considered peace talks as an option, but has not been willing or able to reign in Assad, who every time they are a prospect launches a new attack and publically commits to recapturuing every inch of ground by force.

    Rebel held areas are beseiged because they are rebel held, but the determination of those stuck there can be gleaned from the messages they send out to friends and relatives abroad, from the civil society projects they do, from their social media accounts, from the demonstrations against the regime and against extremists, etc. I don’t doubt that some wish for an end at any price. But remember that this all started because people felt they had no alternative. Surrender – for large numbers of Syrians – means death.

    Your point about the lack of apetite for action in the west is well made, and it is partly for that reason that Putin and Assad both continue to escalate the level of violence. And it’s why I advocate taking a variety of measures to get them to reassess.

    @Steve – still with the conspiracy theories I see. Why would the CIA be arming Al Qaida when there have been far better alternatives to have armed – if Obama had wanted to?

  • @ Jonathan Brown
    Thank you for sending a link to the “Free Aleppo Council”. But my earlier comments stand : The ‘Free Aleppo Council” don’t represent Aleppo city, as are from the 15% (max) of its 250k population . In your polemic on allowing the Syrian govt to retake territory from “rebels”, you elect to ignore that

    (a) At least 1.25million -70% of Aleppo civilians are crammed in the Western part of the city- many from the East, subject to continuous bombardment or tunneled bombs from the “rebels”. They have often been under siege by “rebels” since they broke into the city from the countryside and took over large swathes in 2012-13. But the regime has strained to break those sieges and protect the majority of civilians there, where they can. Here’s an example of the “rebel” bombardment on West Aleppo this weekend:
    https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/rebel-rocket-attack-kills-young-syrian-swimmer-syrias-aleppo/
    (b) The regime has always lacked media savviness or been ignored by our Western media, with honourable exceptions from serious journalists like Jeremy Bowen, Peter Oborne, Patrick Cockburn & Robert Fisk.
    (c) It’s the regime that has maintained to keep civil service payments and services running in all areas- in “rebel” held areas, Kurdish areas and even ISIS areas- so long as those groups allow them to do so.
    (d) Al Kindi Hospital, one of the largest in Aleppo, was shelled to pieces by the “rebels” in 2013. You’ll note that the western mainstream media didn’t cover this – and the hundreds in the Syrian Army who had defended it- ran out of ammo to await their fate at the hands of the “rebels” (mass executions).

  • @ Jonathan Brown: “unlike the Baathis dictatorship and its multiple secret services, the criminal gangs and sectarian militias which dominate regime-held parts of the country.”

    So….the “rebels” have no spies, aren’t full of criminal and opportunists or sectarian gangs…..REALLY?
    Most of the Syrian Army are sunni- just not of the sort who like to blow themselves up to gain tactical advantage. Yes, they are also accompanied by some sectarian groups like Hezbollah- who are more complex than fighting for their Shia sect.

    The Syrian army doesn’t tend to do as “rebels”, who:
    -Carry out mass executions of prisoners of war, or
    -Purge areas of non-believers (Christians, Alawites, Druze) or use as human shields
    -Co-opt children as militia.

    Aside from the Syrian govt cracking down on antiquity looting and arranging for their protection, it pays the civil service, issues education curriculum etc across the “rebel”, Kurdish & ISIS areas- is this another wicked Baathist plot???

  • Jonathan Brown 4th Oct '16 - 12:31am

    @Tomas – I’ve never sought to hide – and don’t now – the crimes committed by various rebel groups. At times rebels have executed prisoners, tortured prisoners, laid siege to regime-held villages, etc.

    I have sought to put things in perspective. While rebels have illegally shelled / mortared regime held suburbs, they have not systematically attempted to destroy the medical, food, sanitation and energy sources of civilian populations. And I repeat – this article is about putting pressure on the actors that are by far the largest blocks to peace. (It’s also not about the armed opposition, good, bad or ugly.)

    You on the other hand seek to deny the crimes committed by the Assad regime altogether “doesn’t carry out mass executions”, either failing to realise or choosing not to see that the regime has done everything it accuses the opposition of doing: sectarian murders, mass detentions and executions, ethnic cleansing, use of human shields, use of militia, etc.

    The reason so many people flee places like eastern Aleppo is because the regime has conducted a scorched earth war-fighting policy. Every time it loses grounds, it takes its revenge by seeking to destroy everything enabling human society to exist. If you listened to Syrians, you would know this.

    You also miss my point about the Aleppo Council. Firstly, that if you’re not interested in what Syrians have to say, then it’s no wonder you don’t know what’s happening in Syria. And secondly, regardless of the size of the remaining population in eastern Aleppo – this is an example – and there are hundreds of others – of communities organising, choosing their own leaders and providing their own services. This is people excercising self-government. It’s something any Liberal Democrat ought to recognise as being the essence of everything we believe in.

  • Jayne Mansfield 4th Oct '16 - 8:53am

    @Jonathan Brown,
    John Kerry has indeed walked away from talks. Shame on him.

    I am unsure whether the ceasefire failed because of a lack of will to enforce its provisions or whether it was the case that not all parties were fully signed up to it in the first place.

    It is a truism that in war the first casualty is truth so it is impossible for someone like myself to know what the truth is. What little one can discern is that the situation is complex and there are no ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’, atrocities have been committed by all sides.

    Currently, the limit of my ambition would be forty -eight hour ceasefires to enable humanitarian aid to reach the people besieged. Any involvement in the politics or suspicion that there is political partiality would, I believe lead to distrust and stymie even this limited aim

    I read somewhere that Russia rejected a 7 day ceasefire because it allowed the rebels time to regroup, but that the idea of weekly 48 hour ceasefires was agreed by them, and in some reports the proposal was put forward by them. Again, who can wade through the propaganda?

    I am unsure what pressure you think is possible to exert to bring about the more ambitious objectives that you propose. It seems that even in the UN Security Council, Russia is still allowed to vote for or against resolutions relating to Syria.

  • Jonathan Brown……And I repeat – this article is about putting pressure on the actors that are by far the largest blocks to peace. (It’s also not about the armed opposition, good, bad or ugly.)…………

    The problem with this article is that you have already decided on who the ‘baddies’ (actors) are….You cannot have an agreement that doesn’t address the opposition, whether ISIS or the western supported groups…

    Thankfully, I am not the only one sceptical of so many ‘opposition claims’…..As far as the Al Ghouta sarin attack goes, the US version of events has been totally discredited…

    I don’t believe that either side has much moral high ground to claim but, as with your version of events, the West seems primarily interested in removing Assada…

  • Steve Trevethan 4th Oct '16 - 7:16pm

    There are at least two sorts of “conspiracy theory”.
    One is any attempt to explain something nasty planned and done against some human beings by others, for this will inevitably involve conspiracy.
    Another sort of conspiracy theory is one which differs from that which is promoted by Government and Main Stream Media.
    This one confuses theory with explanation. A “conspiracy explanation” is a conspiracy theory “proved beyond reasonable doubt”.
    Our Government and MSM have by not proved their theory and so other tenable theories are worth investigating.
    The US organisation of weapon acquisition by Al Qaeda derivatives was reported by Jane’s Defence Weekly.
    http://www.globalresearch.ca/u-s-military-aid-to-al-qaeda-routine-shipments-of-weapons-to-syrian-freedom-fighters/5548960
    The propagation of anti-Assad attitudes by our Government and MSM is also evident.
    “”Western” governments pay more than $70 million to the “White Helmets” — created by the New York PR company Purpose Inc. to make and distribute pictures and movies to show the Islamic insurgency in Syria as “good” and the Syrian government and its allies as “bad”.”
    http://www.moonofalabama.org/2016/10/special-interests-create-the-good-and-bad-and-the-compelling-story-the-media-just-tell-it.html#more
    http://21stcenturywire.com/2015/09/01/white-helmets-new-breed-of-mercenaries-and-propagandists-disguised-as-humanitarians-in-syria/

  • Jonathan Brown 5th Oct '16 - 12:50am

    I don’t think there’s any point continuing to engage with some of these comments, but @Jayne – one of the reasons why on this occasion the rebel groups didn’t endorse the ceasefire (although they did largely abide by it in practice) is that every time there has been one before, it has been meant to allow humanitarian aid to get in. And the Assad government never lets this happen.

    So why would they sign up for it this time? Every time they have done so, there’s been no follow through. No aid has been delivered. No political prisoners have been released. No concessions have been offered in talks. The ceasefires to date have literally had no purppose and nothing to show for them. John Kerry walking away from talks means nothing, because there was no mechanism for bringing actors (on any side) to the table.

    I explained in the article how I think pressure can be exerted. The point is to give peace a chance. Russia can vote against resolutions relating to Syria, but my proposals don’t require new UN resolutions. Indeed, existing resolutions already mandate the delivery of aid – by air drops if necessary.

  • @Jonathan Brown
    That’s good that you don’t ever seek to hide and don’t now – the crimes committed by various rebel groups. It’s just that you’ve barely mentioned it amongst the visceral deluge of criminality that you blame the regime and its backers, suggesting that the scorched earth policy doesn’t exist on the “rebel” side, while persistently ignoring the civic life that the regime continues to support with civilians passing through the sides when it’s not a frontline battle.
    You still wrongly claim that the army is ‘sectarian” while refusing to acknowledge that a substantial proportion of Sunnis support the regime (though they perhaps cover a more a wider, more tolerant spectrum of interest in religion than most “rebels”), and don’t get that in the Levant, it’s not the simple Sunni v. Shia narrative, but Sunni purists v. everyone else.

    Unfortunately most of my critique of your black/white inaccurate article (although your replies to others can be less polemical) isn’t addressed, but am dismissed with: “You on the other hand seek to deny the crimes committed by the Assad regime altogether “- presumably a misreading me saying the regime doesn’t TEND to do some items that the rebels do : mass killing Prisoners of war, Purging non-believers or Co-opting children as soldiers.

    Similarly, you accuse me of missing your point about the Aleppo Council and suggest I’m not therefore interested in what Syrians have to say. Sorry, but I do: I hear something perhaps less ideological and don’t use to reinforce my view: the basic human drive to continue with everyday life in extreme circumstances, while contending with being bombed while surrounded by terrorist fighters who don’t have time or resource to police your lives (unlike in most of Idlib), but would come for you if you criticise them or say anything supportive of the regime. That is what the “free Aleppo Council” website looks like to me. There are other pro and anti govt bloggers within the govt areas too, if you care to look, but they aren’t as co-ordinated into a single voice.
    I hear pro-rebel Syrians here reported often in the BBC, which tends to rely on particular spokeswomen. But other Syrian voices I hear despair of the destruction of their country, of the atrocities from all sides, but are well aware of longstanding western interest to topple Assad (especially France), and contemptuous and frightened of Turkish and gulf states intrigue.

  • Jonathan Brown 5th Oct ’16 – 12:50am……..I don’t think there’s any point continuing to engage with some of these comments…….

    The rest of your post explains why such interaction is pointless….It is all Assad’s fault;

  • Jayne Mansfield 5th Oct '16 - 8:42am

    @Jonathan Brown,
    Thank you.

    Paul, in another thread bemoans the dumbing down that is attributed to 24 hour news. From my perspective, one cannot bang home the ongoing tragedy of Syria and the refugees who are trying to escape the conflict enough times by enough methods. It is a humanitarian crisis of such proportions that it must be constantly kept to the forefront of peoples’ minds.

    I believe that John Kerry is wrong to walk away because since this thread started more Syrians including children will have been buried alive and slaughtered in unimaginable circumstances.

    The bombing of hospitals and health facilities is not just a tactic of the venal Assad. The bombing of the MSF hospital in Kunduz has not been properly investigated. Once one loses one’s moral authority it is difficult if not impossible to moralise with characters like Putin and Assad, but talk one must, preferably with some humility.

    There must be a ceasefire however imperfect, and in my view, threats harden attitudes. There must be safe corridors created so that civilians, the sick and injured can reach safety. There must be a route to transfer the sick and injured for appropriate medical treatment, and food and water which are now in short supply water must be delivered.

    There are reports of fighters amassing on the borders of the rebel held areas to bring a definitive end to the rebel held areas, a no flight zone would not protect the civilians from brutal ground fighting.

    Who is going to authorise cruise missiles? Would Russia really accept this? Could one give cast iron guarantees that mistakes will not happen that offer a propaganda victory to Russia?

    I am not being deliberately obstructive, I just worry that a hellish situation that one thinks cannot be made any worse, is made worse by escalation. This is not an excuse for inaction, and on a personal level we can all help to assuage our distress by welcoming refugees from the conflict instead of building metaphorical walls to keep them out of Europe.

  • Jonathan Brown 7th Oct '16 - 1:28am

    @Tomas – I have focussed on the crimes of the regime because by their scale and motivation they are by far the biggest block to peace. Most of the oppposition groups, including sectarian ones, have been interested in compromise on many issues and leverage can be exerted over them. Very little leverage has been applied to the regime to get it to seriously engage with talks.

    The Syrian Arab Army may on paper be a secular institution (despite the preponderance of Alawite officers in its ranks) but the regime hides the sectarianism behind the formal secularism. You only need to look at the nature of many of the soldiers fighting for it to see that it employs sectarian fighters: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/sep/29/aleppo-attack-foreign-syrian-fighters-plan-shia-islamic But as importantly is the fact that it has fostered sectarianism in the opposition, deliberately creating the opposition it always wanted. This goes back to the amnesties for jihadist veterans in the early days of the uprising (when secular civic opposition leaders were still being rounded up) to the ignoring of ISIS while focussing upon the secular and more moderate Islamist opposition groups.

    @Jayne – I wholeheartedly agree that we should not just push the humanitarian crisis out of mind. My support for more robust measures is simply to try to prevent the further escalation of this crisis, but applying pressure in an effective way. Simply asking the regime to talk has not worked, and on this issue Russia has little influence over the Syrian government. Until and unless Assad feels that there is an existential risk to continuing to fight… he will continue to fight.

  • Jayne Mansfield 7th Oct '16 - 11:06am

    @ Jonathan,
    The new UN special envoy Steffan de Mistura has begged the al Nusra Front rebels to leave East Aleppo. I argued in my first post that this was the only way to stop this carnage. If the rebels really were concerned for the civilians of Aleppo they would do this.

    The last UN assessment of those civilians who would wish to leave that I checked, was put at 50%, with the UN were unable to assess how many of the rest were determined to stay.

    Of course, the civilian are afraid that they will be the victims of snipers (as they were at tje beginning of the war) will keep people rooted to the area, but the UN needs to negotiate guarantees that they will be able to leave safely and provide security to ensure that they can do so.

    It seems to me that giving the besieged civilians hope that this is a battle that can be won is cruel. Russia is not the only ally of Assad. I believe that one must ask oneself what one’s aims are. For some it is strategic gain in a complex and confused sectarian and proxy conflict, for others it is purely humanitarian. I believe that the latter should be aim of those who care about the slaughter of the innocents.

    As to the former, it seems to me that talks and diplomacy to ensure the success of humanitarian efforts, are the only interventions that won’t exacerbate the situation and lead to an even greater and wider destruction and loss of life.

    Clearly we will not agree on this, but that is my sincerely held view on how best to protect the children caught up in this situation.

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