Skip to main content

Syria: Aleppo Ceasefire

Volume 774: debated on Thursday 15 September 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what efforts have been made in the UN Security Council to secure a ceasefire by all forces in and around Aleppo in Syria in order to facilitate urgent humanitarian aid, particularly to injured children.

My Lords, the United Nations Security Council has consistently called for the end of violence across the whole of Syria, including Aleppo. We welcome the agreement reached by the United States and Russia on 9 September to restore the cessation of hostilities across Syria and to provide unhindered humanitarian access. All parties must now do what is needed to end violence. In particular, that includes the regime. We urge Russia to use its influence to ensure that that happens.

I thank the Minister for that comprehensive and helpful reply. Does she recall the picture of little Omran Daqneesh covered in blood and dirt when he was pulled out of the rubble after the bombing? Only yesterday on the BBC we saw a terrified 8 year-old who had had his arm amputated. When so many children have known nothing but brutal war, is it not vital that the guns stay silent so that the desperate needs of the people of Aleppo can be met? Will the Minister tell the House what representations have been made to the United States and Russia to extend the current ceasefire in order to maximise the supply of the vital aid that those people so desperately need?

The noble Baroness eloquently and poignantly raises a very important issue, one that I think has touched the hearts of all of us looking at the ghastly footage on our television screens. We are committed to doing everything we can to support humanitarian aid to Aleppo, which is why we fully support pauses in fighting to get that aid into Aleppo and to ensure that those in dire need of medical evacuation can access treatment. The recent deal has a very important role to play in that. I reassure the noble Baroness that the United Kingdom Government are working in conjunction with global partners, not least the International Syria Support Group. Very recently, the Foreign Secretary hosted a meeting of the Syrian High Negotiations Committee, so we are doing our very best at every level to facilitate attainment of the objectives which the noble Baroness desires.

My Lords, on 3 and 4 September, I was in Aleppo with parliamentary and other colleagues. It was obvious that normal life continued there, at least in the government-controlled areas. Will our Government press hard for effective monitoring of the present ceasefire and for severe penalties for ceasefire breaking?

The short answer is yes: we shall do everything we can to monitor progress. Although we are at an early stage in the cessation, the indications are perhaps encouraging, and we very much hope that it will be sustained and that therefore the concerns which the noble Lord expressed will be assuaged.

My Lords, the brutality inflicted on the people of Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria by the Syrian regime is appalling, but do the Government not recognise that insisting as a precondition that Assad cannot play any future role in Syria simply means that the war will continue, Assad will remain and millions of people in Aleppo and elsewhere will continue to suffer?

The United Kingdom Government have made clear that the stable and peaceful future of Syria depends on fundamental changes taking place in that country. Our position is that we consider the presence of President Assad to be unhelpful in that process. We think there has to be a transition to another regime and that, ultimately, he cannot be a part of that new regime. As I have said previously in the House, his presence is divisive and distracting.

Turkey is an important ally in these matters, and that is an important relationship. All the parties to the International Syria Support Group, of which Turkey is one, are doing their best to make a contribution.

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Kinnock drew attention to the dire situation in and around Aleppo, but of course there are other areas in need of urgent humanitarian help. Amnesty International has drawn attention to the 75,000 refugees trapped close to the border with Jordan after the Jordanian border was closed because of an attack. Could the Minister tell the House what steps we are taking to work with the Jordanian Government to ensure that some humanitarian aid gets through to those 75,000 people, who have had no help since August?

I thank the noble Lord opposite for raising that point. I cannot give him a specific answer other than to confirm that Jordan is also a member of the International Syria Support Group, but I undertake to make an inquiry, and if I can elicit more information I shall write to the noble Lord.

My Lords, the last Government were doing a great deal to assist women and girls who have been subject to sexual violence in this conflict. Can the noble Baroness say whether this programme is set to continue on the same scale as under the last Government?

The noble Baroness raises an important point. Again, there are a range of initiatives and endeavours that the UK Government want to pursue, but the prerequisite for that is that we enter a more stable situation in Syria. That is why the deal between the United States, Russia and the regime is so important. We hope that will facilitate a greater opportunity for engagement and the provision of help.

My Lords, while it is now clear that Bashar Assad cannot have a long-term future as President of Syria, will the Government do everything they can to ensure that when there is a change of regime the new Government is also secular, and that the one thing that is guarded against is the encouragement of Islamists, resulting in another theocratic Government in the Middle East, which would be the ultimate victory for IS?

I say to my noble friend that this anticipates a point further down the line. Any attempt to broker peace will be facilitated by the United Nations with all the members of the global coalition. We very much hope that the UN special envoy, Staffan de Mistura, whose endeavours were interrupted by the breach of the earlier cessation of hostilities, will feel that the time is approaching when he might resume his role. I am sure there will be diplomatic discussions about trying to ensure that that happens.

I apologise for reverting to the point made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Oates, but, whatever we think about President Assad, surely it is only proper that it is the Syrian people who decide who is going to run their country, not Saudi Arabia, America, Iran or Russia.

The ultimate objective for Syria is, we hope, that there will be a restoration of stability and peace and there will be respect for freedoms and democracy, and that anticipates that the Syrian people will have a significant say in what kind of regime they seek. The United Kingdom Government have made clear that, in these difficult, sensitive and fractious times, the presence of Assad is not conducive to those objectives.