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We need Russian co-operation in Syria, says bishop

21 April 2017


Ambush: 68 children were among 126 killed while being evacuated from towns besieged by opposition forces, on Saturday

Ambush: 68 children were among 126 killed while being evacuated from towns besieged by opposition forces, on Saturday

PEACE in Syria will be impossible to achieve without co-operation with Russia, the Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth, said this week, amid warnings that rela­tions between the countries were further deteriorating.

“The geopolitical reality is that there will be no peace settlement in Syria without Russia’s support,” he said on Tuesday. The United States air strikes this month, a response to an alleged chemical attack in Idlib, had “exacerbated the already urgent need to — in Mikhail Gorbachev’s words — ‘restore trust’ with Russia. That’s a two-way process, of course, but we have to engage in it; and it will actually make a robust UN in­­vestigation into the chemical attack more rather than less possible.”

The Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, who failed last week to secure G7 support for new sanctions against Russia, called on Tuesday for the Russians to “end their blind support for Assad, stop the gas at­­tacks and the barrel bombs, allow the delivery of aid to those who need it, deliver a real ceasefire, and begin the political process that will include a transition away from Assad”.

The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, has described the US strikes — which were supported by the British government — as “an act of aggression which blatantly viol­ated the principles of international law and the UN Charter”.

Calls from aid agencies for a po­lit­­ical solution to the crisis were re­­iterated this week after 68 children were killed while being evacuated from towns besieged by opposition forces, on Saturday. The attack hit a convoy carrying people from Fua and Kefraya, towns in a rural part of the Aleppo Governorate, to areas under government control.

“It is a moral outrage that 68 chil­dren seeking safety would be mur­dered in this way,” Christian Aid’s Syria advocacy and programme officer, Máiréad Collins, said on Wednesday. “The continuing spiral of violence will not bring peace. Until there is a negotiated just peace settlement, this violence will only continue.

“It’s slowly getting to the point where attempts by innocent people to escape death increasingly seem like an exercise in futility,” the director of World Vision’s Syria response, Wynn Flaten, said. “Ul­­timately, as we’ve said time and again, the only way forward is a political solution for peace. That means leaders with influence in Syria getting back around the table, staying there until they’ve estab­lished a meaningful solution, then sticking to their promises.

“It’s deeply saddening that we have yet to see any such political stamina — only an inexcusable trail of stalled peace-talks and broken ceasefires.”
Fua and Kefraya had been en­­circled by opposition fighters since 2015, with little food or medical supplies, and in constant fear of attack. As part of the “Four Towns Agreement” negotiated by Qatar and Iran, the residents were being moved out in exchange for those of Madaya and Zabadani, besieged by government forces.

Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the attack “likely amounts to a war crime”, and that there were fears for those still missing, owing “to their perceived sympathies for the government of Syria”.

Dr Cocksworth called on Chris­tians in the UK to “speak relentlessly for peace, and, in Jesus’s words, to call for the things that make for peace. To hold out hope, even in the times of great despair. To look to the future: the road to reconciliation it requires, and the long-term sup­port Syria will need to reconstruct its land and society.”

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