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Russia condemned by MPs in debate on Aleppo violence

14 October 2016


Emergency: Andrew Mitchell MP leads a debate on Syria in the House of Commons on Tuesday

Emergency: Andrew Mitchell MP leads a debate on Syria in the House of Commons on Tuesday

RUSSIA was condemned in the House of Commons this week, in an emergency debate on the humani­t­arian disaster unfolding in Aleppo.

The Foreign Secretary, Boris John­son, said that Russia was “in danger of becoming a pariah nation”, and sup­ported calls for sanctions and referral to the International Criminal Court.

”If President Putin’s strategy is to restore the greatness and glory of Russia, I believe that he risks seeing his ambition turn to ashes in the face of international contempt for what is happening in Syria,” he said.

Referring to the calls for a no-­bombing zone made by the Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell, the co-chair of the parliamentary Friends of Syria group, who called the debate, Mr Johnson said that he had “every sympathy” with the idea, but careful thought was required.

”We must work through all those types of options with our allies. . . We cannot commit to a no-fly zone unless we are prepared to shoot down planes or helicopters that violate that zone.”

On Thursday, he signalled to the Foreign Affairs Committee that military intervention could be pursued.

"It is right now that we should be looking again at the more kinetic options, the military options," he said. "But we must be realistic about how these in fact work, and what is deliverable."

He suggested that there had been a shift in attitudes towards intervention: "Most people, I think, are not changing their minds. They're thinking we can't let this go on forever."

On Sunday he would call a meeting of foreign ministers, to discuss how to proceed, in Iraq as well as Syria: "Most people feel the process of discussion with the Russians has basically run out of road."

In his opening speech in the Commons, Mr Mitchell argued that no-fly zones were “per­fectly feasible. It is question of whether the international community has the political will to face down the Russians and the Syrian helicopters by setting one up.”

Russia was “behaving like a rogue elephant, shredding international hu­­man­itarian law and abusing its veto powers in the UN Security Council,” he continued. “The Russians are doing to the United Nations precisely what Italy and Germany did to the League of Nations in the 1930s, and they are doing to Aleppo precisely what the Nazis did to Guernica during the Spanish Civil War.”

He called for a “concerted effort by the international community”. This should include sanctions and “multi­lateral military action to discharge our responsibility to protect”. Was the “handwringing” after atrocities in Rwanda, Bosnia, and Srebrenica “just hot air”, he asked.

The Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, said that Britain must continue to work with the Russian government to restore the peace process. “We need a ceasefire, and for people to draw back.”

She supported a plan put forward by the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, to escort Jihadi forces out of Aleppo, thus removing the pretext for bombing the city, as a prelude to a new ceasefire.

Her fellow Labour MPs spoke in support of Mr Mitchell, including his Friends of Syria co-chair, John Wood­cock, who described President Putin as a “classic bully” who must be stood up to. “The question is ulti­mately for the Foreign Secretary and the Government, because my party is making itself more and more of an irrelevance with every pronounce­ment from the Front Bench,” he said.

Ms Clwyd queried the lack of demonstrations: “Where is the rage?” She wanted to see millions outside the Russian embassy, day after day.

The Conservative MP Alistair Burt warned that the UN was being stripped of its authority. “If inter­national mechanisms cannot prevent an Aleppo, what actually can they now prevent?”

In Rome, on Wednesday, Pope Francis repeated his appeal for peace in Syria when he addressed the crowd gathered in St Peter’s Square for the weekly general audience. “I want to emphasise and reiterate my solidarity with all victims of inhuman conflict in Syria,” he said.

”It is with a sense of urgency that I renew my appeal, begging, with all my strength, those responsible, that steps be taken toward an immediate ceasefire, one imposed and respected at least for the time necessary to allow the evacuation of civilians, especially children, who are still trapped under cruel bombardment.”

A Sky poll published on Thursday found that 46 per cent of those asked (1005 Sky customers) would support British military involvement to stop the crisis in Aleppo. More than a third (37 per cent) opposed such a move. More than half agreed that "British has a responsibility to intervene to protect people in Syria". But when asked whether they would support military intervention if it led to conflict with Russia, 51 per cent said No.

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