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House of Lords debate 22/02/18: Oral questions on Syria

February 23rd, 2018

House of Lords debate 22/02/18: Oral questions on Syria

Baroness Cox asked a supplementary question yesterday in the HoL, suggesting that the British Government must place greater pressure on jihadist-funding countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar to encourage Syrian jihadists to accept the peace treaty offered by the Syrian Government:

 

Baroness Cox

My Lords, is the Minister aware that Eastern Ghouta has been occupied by ISIS and other jihadist groups, such as the Army of Islam, which have been bombing Damascus for years—I saw that bombing coming in when I was last in Damascus— ​and that recently the shelling on Damascus has become so intense that the sky is blackened, especially over Christian areas, and reports are coming in that many people have been killed and injured in Damascus itself? Does the Minister therefore agree that one of the best ways forward would be for those who support the jihadis, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to encourage them to accept the peace arrangements that have been offered to them by the Government of Syria, which would shorten the suffering which everyone sees and knows is horrendous

 Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon

The noble Baroness talks about peace, and of course any initiative which is aimed at that is important. But let us be clear. She raises an important point about groups that operate within Syria. She knows that I am aware of this and that I support ensuring that they are not armed in a way which can cause further destruction to Syria. But at the same time, when we look at the situation in Syria today, the continuing war has been caused by the persistence of the Assad regime. It is backed by Russia, which is why we are imploring Russia to take action. What we are seeing happening in Eastern Ghouta is because of what the Assad regime is doing. It needs to relent in its bombardment, and action needs to be taken so that we can get the 700 people who need medical aid out and provide humanitarian assistance to the 400,000 under siege.

 Lord West of Spithead

My Lords, one has only to look at every civil war there has been to know that they are bloody and merciless. There is no doubt that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said, some of the opposition parties are not democratic at all; they are far from it. Some are even worse than Daesh—they are really bad. Does the Minister not agree that we have to be very careful of making judgments? There are no good guys in this—there are victims but no good guys. Both sides are horrible and we need to be very careful of making judgments. We have to try to get a balanced answer to help the victims.

 Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon

My Lords, on the point about good guys, many voices and many representatives within the Syrian opposition want to see a pluralist, non-sectarian, democratic Syria emerge, and we continue to work with them. Of course, there are other people working on the ground—but, as the noble Lord pointed out, there are also those with sinister intent who are following the Islamist agenda of hijacking a noble faith, misrepresenting it and using it to extend the civil war. That is also unacceptable. I agree with the noble Lord that we have always to tread carefully in civil wars, but I am sure he would acknowledge that the Assad regime bears the brunt of the responsibility for the situation in Syria.

 The Lord Bishop of Leeds

My Lords, this may seem a little odd but, given the recent rapprochement between Russia and Turkey, which is not exactly a marriage made in heaven, would it be possible to make an approach through Turkey, or involving Turkey, to apply pressure on the Russians in a way that, given the political delicacies there, might aid the pressure that we need to bring on Syria?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon

From our perspective, we have a direct relationship with Russia. I certainly feel that we should bring pressure to bear in two ways. One is bilaterally. As the right reverend Prelate will be aware, the Foreign Secretary recently visited Russia, and the ongoing civil war in Syria was very high on his agenda in the discussions. The second way is, as I have already indicated, through the Security Council, of which Russia is a permanent member. I am pleased that, as the penholders, Kuwait and Sweden are taking forward the current UN Security Council resolution, which we hope will be supported by all sides. We would also encourage Turkey to exert whatever influence it can to ensure a cessation of the hostilities.

Lord Campbell of Pittenweem 

My Lords, is it not clear that the good guys in this matter are the civilians, who are being subjected to action that can be described only as war crimes? Is it not right to remember that, based on the Nuremberg principles, those who preside over the commission of war crimes or are complicit in their use are as guilty as those who commit them?

 Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon

The noble Lord is right to raise that issue—history has taught us many lessons. Everyone who is in a position to bring about the cessation of violence in the civil war in Syria should make every effort to do so. I totally agree with the noble Lord. There are good guys—they are the civilians in Syria, and we must bring peace for their sake.


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