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Volume 633: debated on Thursday 21 December 2017


Thursday 21 December 2017


Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Civilian protection in Syria

The petition of residents of Heysham, Morecambe and surrounding areas

Declares that civilians should be protected from hostile forces in the war-torn nation of Syria.

The petitioners therefore urge the House of Commons to pressure the government to take all action necessary in proving humanitarian assistance to those in need and to work with other nations to impose a no-fly zone over civilian territory, promoting peace that contributes to the stability of the country.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Official Report, 20 November 2017; Vol. 631, c. 5P.]


Observations from the Minister for the Middle East (Alistair Burt):

The UK Government have pledged £2.46 billion in humanitarian aid in response to the Syria Crisis, and are working with international partners to achieve a political settlement that ends the suffering.

The UK Government are deeply concerned about the appalling humanitarian tragedy that is unfolding in Syria. Over half the pre-war population have been displaced from their homes and the UN assesses that 13.1 million inside Syria are in need of humanitarian assistance. We are particularly concerned by the ongoing besiegement of around 400,000 people in Eastern Ghouta, and outraged by the continued attacks on civilians, on healthcare facilities and schools. The UK has called on all parties to adhere to agreed ceasefires and cessations of hostilities in Syria, to allow unhindered and sustained humanitarian access, and to respect international humanitarian law.

Across Syria and the region, since February 2012, we have delivered over 26 million food rations, over 10 million medical consultations, over 9 million relief packages and over 8 million vaccines. In April, the UK co-hosted the Brussels Conference on “Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region”, which built on the outcomes of the February 2016 London conference. The Conference resulted in pledges of $6 billion for 2017 and $3.7 billion for 2018-20. The money pledged at the conferences will save lives, give hope and people a chance for the future.

Securing unfettered humanitarian access across Syria is paramount. The UK plays a full role, as part of the International Syria Support Group’s Humanitarian Aid Task Force, supporting the UN and its partners to step up deliveries of food, water and medicine. We continue doing all we can, through diplomatic means, to exert pressure on the regime to enable access as required by UN Security Council Resolutions, and end its deliberate obstruction of humanitarian aid. The regime’s backers, especially Russia, must use their influence to enable humanitarian access. We are also working to secure the renewal of the UN resolution, which authorises cross-border aid deliveries.

The UK supports all genuine efforts to reduce the level of violence in Syria, to protect civilians and create the right conditions for a successful political process. We hope that recent proposals for de-escalation of the conflict through the creation of a number of de-escalation zones will result in a sustained reduction in violence and full and unfettered humanitarian access. Unfortunately, although there has been some reduction in violence in some of the de-escalation areas, there continues to be heavy fighting in others. We will continue to work with international partners to support the reduction of violence.

The practicalities of any form of no-fly zone are complex. History shows that establishing and policing no-fly zones are not simple tasks, especially in intense conflict. Any party seeking to establish a no-fly zone would need to ensure it could be kept safe. Maintaining no-fly zones is therefore likely to require military backing and there are big challenges with any military option that would need to be considered very carefully and in consultation with our partners. However, the UK will continue to prioritise the protection of civilians in Syria and to discuss with our partners the most effective ways of doing so.

Ultimately, the only real solution for peace and stability in Syria is an enduring political solution based on transition away from the Asad regime to a Government representative of all Syrians. We support fully the efforts of the UN Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura, to resume the political process through negotiations. We call on all parties to support and engage constructively in these negotiations to achieve a political settlement to end this terrible conflict.